State decides on complaint
by Anna Oakes
But the board directed state board members Paul Foley, a Republican, and Joshua Malcolm, a Democrat, to travel to Watauga County to meet with the local board "in attempts to improve and repair their operations as a board," said Don Wright, general counsel for the State Board of Elections.
The SBOE discussion of the matter stemmed from an Oct. 8 petition from local Democrats Stella Anderson, Jesse Presnell and Ian O'Keefe seeking removal of Eggers and Aceto - two Republicans appointed to the Watauga County board along with Democrat Kathleen Campbell. The petition alleged "official misconduct, participation in intentional irregularities, unethical actions and incapacity and incompetency to discharge the duties of their offices."
Concerns outlined in the nine-page complaint included the depth of meeting minutes; disregard for the minority board member, the elections director, and the State Board of Elections; and the role of Four Eggers, the county attorney, as personal advisor to his brother. The complaint also claimed that Eggers and Aceto conferred directly or indirectly to make decisions outside open meetings and that they made "arbitrary and capricious choices for the location of polling places."
Aceto responded to the allegations Oct. 11, asking the SBOE to dismiss the complaint because it failed to state any violation of law.
Although the SBOE declined to pursue a formal hearing of the complaint, SBOE members acknowledged ongoing problems with the board.
According to Wright, state board members said there was "room to improve by all three board members," "a need to improve professionalism by all three board members" and that the "Watauga County Board of Elections needs to instill a working spirit among themselves."
Wright noted that no criticism was directed at the staff of the Watauga County Elections Office, including Director Jane Ann Hodges.
Friday marked the second time this year that Watauga board actions were among the matters for an SBOE agenda. In September the board approved an early voting plan approved by the Republican majority on the local board, but Chairman Josh Howard sternly advised the local board members to "try to be decent with each other."
Luke Eggers, the local board chairman, said he was glad to see the complaint dismissed and that "I'm fine with them coming up here. I don't know what that would necessarily entail."
Eggers said he has not felt pressured to resign his position on the board.
"I look forward to seeing what things we can do to improve ... making sure elections are carried out lawfully and ethically in the future," he said.
Anderson - a former Watauga County Board of Elections member and chairwoman - said she, Presnell and O'Keefe attended Friday's meeting in Raleigh and that she gave remarks to the SBOE.
"They concluded that from their perspective there is not sufficient cause to go forward with a hearing," she said.
Anderson said that at one point, the SBOE chairman, Howard, commented that "it seemed to him that Watauga County would be better served if the first three names in the phonebook were appointed to this board rather than the board members that we have." Wright confirmed that Howard made a statement to this effect.
"I do not see any kind of intervention or further admonition to them to change the dynamics going forward," Anderson said. "I am very much concerned that the board dismissing this sends a message that they're perfectly fine with their actions."
Wright said the SBOE did not discuss a date for the state board members' visit to Watauga County, and Eggers said on Friday he had not had a chance to check for more information from the SBOE.