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Fri, Dec 19, 2014

Elections administrator still up in air

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Rutherford County’s Election Commission still hasn’t set a date to hold a public hearing to review it’s the employment of the elections administrator.

“Mr. Cope and Mr. Blackburn are still talking,” Election Commission Chairman Tom Walker said, referring to Jim Cope, the county attorney, and Gary Blackburn, Elections Administrator Hooper Penuel’s attorney.

At the commission’s Monday night meeting, Walker said Cope has more information to bring the commission, but the body didn’t set a hard date due to schedule conflicts.

Two weeks ago, the body rescinded a previous action and voted unanimously to rescind the firing of Elections Administrator Hooper Penuel on the advice of the county attorney. This action was taken after questions of violating Tennessee’s Sunshine Law, which requires discussion and action by governmental bodies be made in public, surfaced.

Then it approved, in a split vote, a measure to place him on administrative leave with pay until a public hearing can be held.

Penuel’s firing came on the heels of the commission’s admission that it failed to open the required three Saturdays and was only open two of the required Saturdays leading up to the Aug. 5 election.

The commission failed to open for a minimum of three hours Saturday, July 17. The elections office staff was informed of the mistake Monday, July 19 when the Tennessee Election commission called asking for the day’s results.

The mistake left the election open to challenge from either voters or candidates, but no one had contested the results of the election.

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The election commission also discussed compensating interim Elections Administrator Rhonda McFerrin.

Walker proposed paying McFerrin what an elections administrator, who hasn’t been certified by the state, would make.

“I propose we bump her salary to the county’s portion, which I believe is around $60,000,” walker said, adding that would add about $100 per week to McFerrin’s paycheck.

The commission will likely need to pay her through the end of the year, which rounds out to $10,000. The body decided to take the money from various accounts.

“We are pulling this money in different pieces,” Walker said.

Because McFerrin isn’t a certified elections administrator, the commission also voted to ask for official state oversight in the November election.

“It’s good for voters and good for candidates,” Walker said.

The election commission representative will not have any authority over the county election commission or its employees, but will review its actions to “make sure the election moves smoothly,” Walker explained.

Michelle Willard can be contacted at 615-869-0816 or mwillard@murfreesboropost.com.

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Elections, Hooper Penuel, Jim Cope, Rhonda McFerrin, RuCo, Tom Walker
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