One month before an Aug. 7 election, the Rutherford County Election Commission voted 5-0 tonight to fire Administrator of Elections Nicole Lester, citing failure to work the required hours and poor morale in the Election Office.
“The administrator no longer enjoys the confidence, I believe, of me or the entire commission,” Chairman Ransom Jones said. “Now is the time for a new direction.”
Citing “frequent and blatant” abuse of the county’s work-hours policy, Jones said Lester’s work record “clearly justifies dismissal.”
Jones said he spoke with Lester almost from the day she took the position three years ago about her work hours and urged her to start clocking in and holding regular office hours, using few time edits and taking courses to improve her management skills.
The county’s Human Resources Office and county mayor’s office also raised concerns about Lester’s work time, according to Jones.
Two weeks ago at an Election Commission meeting, members discussed firing Lester, allowing her to resign or working out a reconciliation plan. Instead of reconciliation, Jones said members received an eight-page “attempt at justification” of her conduct in “a defiant tone.”
Lester defended herself Monday and brought two boxes of records showing proof of her work time. She told commissioners she worked more hours than the required 37.5 per week in 2011, 2012 and this year. Only during 2013 did she work fewer than required, but she had made up for that in previous years, she said.
“I stand by the decision I have made as an administrator,” Lester said afterward. “I know I have done right by the citizens of this county, the voters, the Election Office and myself and my God.”
Several people spoke on behalf of Lester, mainly noting that she had been easy to work with and that it would be a mistake to fire her with just a month left until the county general election and state and federal primaries.
Her father, Hiram Lester, a retired Murfreesboro Police officer, said he felt the commission failed to look at the facts.
“They didn’t consider the evidence she has, the work records and all,” he said. “(Jones) had his mind made up before he came in here and had the votes lined up. There’s no doubt they discussed this before the meeting, which is a violation of the Sunshine Law.”