Supervisors question spending by Registrar

Published 5:00 pm Wednesday, May 19, 2021

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In an unprecedented move, the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors (BOS) unanimously voted to unappropriate funds to the Charlotte County Voter Registrar’s FY21/22 budget during its Monday, May 10, meeting, citing concerns of overspending by the office.

The $15,275 removed on a motion by Supervisor Kay Pierantoni was originally earmarked for new electronic poll books.

Electoral Board Chairman Larry Clark said Monday, May 17, the board would probably have to go back to the BOS and request the funds.

“Meanwhile, we will have to use old machines that are messing up,” Clark said. “It’s a lot of things being done to keep the office of the Registrar from doing his job.”

Late last week, Clark resigned from his position on the Electoral Board effective June 6, noting he will be moving out of the state.

“I am concerned for the use of taxpayer’s money,” Pierantoni said, “In addition to a healthy budget, $51,450.00 was awarded to the Registrar in CARES funding and $20,034.00 in a grant this year. This money was used to hire an additional four people to help with early voting before the November 2020 election and to hire the former Registrar also as a consultant.”

Do you believe the Board of Supervisors is justified in withholding funds from the Board of Elections?

  • Yes (47%, 9 Votes)
  • No (32%, 6 Votes)
  • No opinion (21%, 4 Votes)

Total Voters: 19

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During a December meeting of the BOS Interim General Registrar Eric Goode and Electoral Board Member Larry Clark and former Board Member Bob Bradner addressed the BOS to justify the spending of more than $10,000 in bonuses as hazard pay to the Registrar, the former Registrar, the workers in the office and the Electoral Board themselves.

During that meeting, Goode suggested he would receive $3,000 based on exposure from July 1 until Nov. 25. His staff would receive $10,300 calculated from their first day of employment until Nov. 25. The former Registrar would receive $1,800 for service from July 1 to Aug. 31 and consultations beginning on Oct. 5, amounting to $1,200. Board members would receive $750 each based on the days they were exposed from July 1 to Nov. 25.

According to Goode, the Electoral Board also approved a pay increase from $8 per hour to $11 per hour for the chief and $10 per hour for officers working the early voting precinct.

“During the December meeting, they stated all other possible uses of funds had been expended, and it was either give this hazard pay bonuses or send the money back,” Pierantoni  said, “Now we are learning that they could have used some of these funds for electronic poll books, saving the taxpayers thousands of dollars.”

According to Clark, it was his understanding that CARES funds could not be used to purchase poll books.

In addition to the use of CARES funds, the BOS and even two members of the three-member electoral board have questioned the number of people the Registrar employed for the November 2020 election and his request for employees for this year’s June primary early voting.

“When staff received the budget request from the Registrar and Electoral Board, the request included a significant increase in funding from the previous years,” County Administrator Dan Witt said. “No changes were made to the original request, and the BOS level-funded the Registrar’s office and denied the increases.”

Vice-Chairman of the Electoral Board, Warren Browning, expressed his concerns in an email to the Gazette Monday.

“I have only been on the electoral board since January, and I will say I have had serious concerns about the budget and spending,” Browning said.

Secretary of the Electoral Board Dean Foster said in an interview on Monday that he nor Browning was included in the Registrar’s FY21/22 budget process.

“We got some serious problems in that office,” Foster said.

Foster said he has also questioned why the office needs so many additional employees for elections compared to years past and those in other counties.

“Why we needed five additional assistants and a consultant for the November election is beyond me,” Foster said. “And why did the office need three individuals in addition to a part-time worker for this year’s early voting?”

According to Foster, the BOS only approved one employee to work the June primary early voting.

Foster said when he visited the Registrar’s office on the 12th day of early voting, only 13 people had come into the office to vote.

The current FY21 budget for three elections for the county’s 8,431 registered voters is $15,000 for poll workers for eight precincts. The budget also includes one full-time Registrar and 40 hours per week of part-time wages for part-time help.

The Registrar’s budget request for FY22 was $45,000 for poll workers for three elections and a request for two part-time workers at 29 hours per week.

In comparison, Lunenburg County’s budget for poll workers is $19,000 for 12 precincts and they employee one full time Registrar and one part time worker 29 hours per week.

“In looking at Registrar’s offices in some surrounding counties, Charlotte County is spending tremendously more than any other,” Pierantoni said. “In my opinion, somehow the spending needs to be brought under control.  I believe it is unfair to our taxpayers to continue to support the spending of their hard-earned tax dollars in this way.”

The BOS does not regulate what the Electoral Board or the Registrar does as they are governed by state agencies.