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Election official accused of dumping’ her workload

[10/26/04]Four Warren County election commissioners are doing the work of five in preparing for next Tuesday’s voting, the chairman said.

District 3 Commissioner LaShondra Stewart has not been at the courthouse to canvass rolls, enroll new voters and prepare poll books for individual polling places, said District 5 Commissioner Johnny Brewer.

“We haven’t seen her,” Brewer said. “She hasn’t done her work.”

Stewart, whose pay records were examined by the state Auditor’s Office last year, is also not seeking re-election.

She was out of town and could not be reached, her grandmother said.

Election commissioners, chosen from the five supervisor districts, are authorized to be paid for up to 100 days a year. To get credit for a day worked, a commissioner must log at least five hours.

“Once those days are up, if something is still left to be done, you don’t leave it undone, you do it,” Brewer said, adding that other commission members had handled Stewart’s essential responsibilities. “Especially (District 2 Commissioner Retha Summers) has worked several days beyond her allotted number of days. It’s not fair for elected officials to not do their work and to dump it on other people.”

Other members are Gordon Carr of District 5 and interim appointee Bill Lauderdale of District 4.

While Stewart did not file qualifying papers to seek re-election, two people did. They are Lurline Green, 57, a retired nurse and longtime poll manager and worker, and Patricia Reed, 25, a hairstylist.

The commission operates on an honor system, with members scheduling their own work hours and submitting pay requests, including time sheets, to the chancery clerk’s office. And the commission is held accountable as a group, not as individuals.

Stewart had submitted by Oct. 1 pay requests for 100 days, county payroll clerk Catherine Bright said. The county had paid her $70 a day, or a total of $7,000, this year.

“We’ve done some of her work, and not just this year,” Brewer said. “Something needs to be done and we don’t have the authority to do it. If anybody does have any authority, they haven’t stepped up and exercised it. It’s pretty common knowledge about what’s been going on.”

District Attorney Gil Martin said this morning a complaint would have to be filed by a county official with knowledge of payroll before a criminal investigation would be undertaken.

The auditor’s office requested and was given access to Stewart’s county pay records as they were about a year ago, chancery clerk’s office staff has confirmed. Spokesmen for the auditor’s office, however, have yet to either confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.

State law provides for the board of supervisors to perform the duties of the election commission if none exists or if commissioners fail to act. Without a petition from the election commission, however, supervisors are essentially powerless over election commissioners, board attorney Randy Sherard said.

Election commissioners maintain the county voter rolls, conduct elections, count votes and certify results. Among their responsibilities are to make sure voters are assigned to the correct precincts and to coordinate management of polling places, including making sure appropriate ballots are provided.