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Tensions rise at Election Commission meeting as GOP, Dems square off

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Tuesday night's Rutherford County Election Commission meeting began with opening statements from Chairwoman Doris Jones.

Reminding those in attendance of expected behavior she declared, "This is a stated meeting; please no outbursts, no applause and no hisses. We expect you to be quiet and dignified while we conduct our business."

Boy was it all down hill from there.

In front of nearly three dozen attendees packed into the small Rutherford County Election Commission office, some sitting but most standing against the walls and around the front entrance, Joe Crowell was given his allotted three minutes to address the commission.  

Reading from a personally typed letter, of which he handed out to anyone in the room who desired a copy, Crowell began, "I worked several years as a poll worker. I've never had a problem with anyone that works in this office, any poll worker, or anyone that ever voted on my machine.

"I last worked the Aug. 2010 election. I was fired by Mrs. Jones before the November election because I made Mrs. Jones mad," he read.

Crowell alleged he was fired because he left a message at the Rutherford County Republican Headquarters defending former elections administrator Hooper Penuel "and the waste of $40,000 of tax payers money and I felt the three republican commissioners should be fired," he said.

He went on to address the recent appointing of Tom Walker as the commission's administrator, a reported pledge composed by State Representative Joe Carr and signed by Jones, Walker and fellow republican commission member Oscar Gardner agreeing they would not run for the administrator position until they had been off of the commission for at least one year and the premature dismissal of former administrator Penuel.

"I feel the Republican Party will have to clean house in April. You have left a cloud of mistrust over the entire voting process of Rutherford County. If the Republican Party doesn't remove you people from the Election Commission in April then there will also be a cloud of mistrust over the Republican Party," Crowell said.

After finishing his letter and making a few comments supporting his argument, Gardner called time and as Crowell took his seat numerous members of the audience broke out in applause.

Jones then called for the second speaker of the night, Micah Forrest, to stand up and address the commission.

Forrest, who was also given three minutes to speak reading from a typed letter he passed out before the meeting, introduced himself as a citizen of Rutherford County.

"I have some serious questions regarding the election of Mr. Tom Walker as our new election administrator as well as the power to actually vote Mr. Walker and the entire election commission," Forrest said. "My questions are not along party lines; my questions are along the lines as a citizen of Rutherford County whose taxes pay the salary of the election administrator and the election commission. We count on you for honesty and transparency.

"Mr. Walker and the election commission, you violated sunshine laws with regard to open meetings, covered them up and admitted to it only after you got caught," he continued. "This seems to be a pattern."

Forrest went on to ask three main questions he felt should have been but were not asked before the appointing of Walker.

He wanted to know why it took more than 20 days for the commission to tell the citizens of Rutherford County that the law was broken regarding open polling hours, why Walker was placed in charge of a million dollar budget without discussing his business background and history in any public meeting and if Jones did in fact sign the aforementioned pledge for Carr.

"You hang a banner in front of your building that says "VOTE". I believe in the right of that vote, under law. My comments are not Republican or Democrat, they are American. You work for us," Forrest said.

In the middle of his next statement, Gardner called time. After a short pause, Forrest asked when and if his questions were going to be answered and things took a turn for the worse.

"I'm sorry, sir. Your time is up," Jones responded.

There was an immediate outburst from the audience demanding answers. Forrest asked again when he would receive responses to his questions.

"We are not going to have them answered tonight. I suggest you schedule a meeting… We are not going to waste an hour of our time," Jones said matter-of-factly.

"It's no waste of anybody's time. We want to hear an answer to the questions we have. Quit dodging the questions," demanded Sherry McClain from the audience.

As the argument between Jones and McClain continued, Jones' husband, Clyde interrupted.

"She told you to shut up and not be saying anything if you want to stay," he snapped at McClain.

At this moment, Democratic Election commissioner John Taylor turned around and made his attempt to cease the arguing, stating there was no need for a shouting match during the meeting.

"Well I didn't start it, damn it," shouted Clyde Jones. "But I'm going to finish it though. You don't yell at Clyde Jones!"

He continued yelling with Taylor as the man seated in front of him was turned around trying to calm him down.

Then Forrest, who was still standing from his address to the commission, turned and directly repeated his previous question to Chairwoman Jones, asking if she signed the alleged pledge.

"I can't talk to you, sir. You won't let me talk to you," said Jones.

There were enough arguments occurring at once in the modestly sized foyer to distract a worker on the floor of the New York stock market.

That's when Taylor spoke up and surprisingly the room simmered down.

He expressed to Jones that he was in no hurry and interested in Crowell's situation.

Jones proceeded to explain to Taylor that she does not hire or fire people, she only suggested Crowell be dismissed because his voice mail "displayed extremist tendencies."

That didn't sit well with Election Commission Employee Velton Jordan.

"I'm going to take issue with that," Jordan interrupted. "I just want to say one thing. Doris you did call up here and tell us to not let him work at the polls."

"I suggested it," argued Jones.

"No, you said he will not. Thank you," added Jordan.

Amused by this interchange, a few in the crowd clapped and laughed.

Taylor went on to recite the law and explain that workers hired by the commission can only be fired by members from the party of which they represent.

Because the Democrats had no hand in Crowell being relieved of his duties, Jones' and the commission's wrong doing was made apparent.

"Doris I think we should offer an apology to Mr. Crowell or something and in the future we should follow the statutes more closely," Taylor suggested.

Chairwoman Jones then rose, walked over to a seated Crowell, and with one hand behind her back and the other wrapped across the front of her torso, bowed to the 74-year-old veteran of the U.S. military.

"Please forgive me," Jones said.

Sounds of disgust came from the public as Crowell rejected the apology.

"Ma'am, if I thought you truly meant that I would forgive you, but I don't think you truly mean that," said Crowell.

Taylor then added one last request for Jones, that she not make any more decisions without the rest of the members of the commission especially when it comes to the treatment of the poll workers.

She without hesitation agreed.

As the commission moved on to its other items of business, Crowell rose and walked out the front door to an applause from supporters in the crowd.

Forrest made one last attempt to get his answers, asking if a pledge was ever signed.

"I do not recall," Walker answered.

By the end of the meeting, half of those in attendance were outside on the sidewalk with Crowell and Forrest, half remained seated inside interested in the remaining items on the agenda and two deputies from the Rutherford County Sheriff's Department showed up after an audience member called them.

Easily said, quiet and dignified conduct was apparently all but on the night's agenda.

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Doris Jones, Election Commission, Elections, Tom Walker
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Members Opinions:
January 23, 2011 at 2:37pm
Great news reporting...thanks Post reporter Fryar...drama, intense emotions, quotes from all sides...great journalism.
January 24, 2011 at 1:14pm
Sounds like an interesting meeting. I strongly urge my fellow Republicans to fight these evil liberal Socialist Extremists who hate America with all your might.
January 24, 2011 at 1:54pm
Sounds like sour grapes. I would like to remind those democrats complaining about the current rules that they are the ones who wrote them when they were in the majority (a position they thought they were eternally entitled to). Which democrat was it that said "Elections have consequences"? Sorry, but Saint Hooper had his own problems which included ignoring applications from republican voters to become poll workers.
January 24, 2011 at 3:25pm
Great article Sarah: Front page cover sad but true. Facts are facts.
January 24, 2011 at 5:26pm
"Well I didn't start it, damn it," shouted Clyde Jones. "But I'm going to finish it though. You don't yell at Clyde Jones!" Classic stuff.
January 26, 2011 at 5:50pm
Breaking news on Main Street: Local GOP has reportedly asked R.C. Election Commission Chairwoman Doris Jones (R) and Tom Walker (R) to resign... as of Wednesday late afternoon.
January 29, 2011 at 4:12pm
I think it is sad that so many place being republican or democrat before being a citizen, and doing what is right for the community.
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