UPDATE: Personnel issue again dominates BOE
by Kellen Short
A "letter of reprimand" issued last month to Elections Director Jane Ann Hodges continues to divide the Watauga County Board of Elections.
Democrat Kathleen Campbell objected again Wednesday to the letter, filed by Republican Chairman Luke Eggers and provided to the other board members Nov. 4.
The letter, which has not been released to the public, deals with an unspecified personnel complaint involving Hodges.
Hodges, who could release the letter if desired, said last month she has been in consultation with a private attorney and did not wish to make it public.
Campbell read a statement Wednesday objecting to the "treatment of Ms. Hodges."
"I have now spoken with an attorney familiar with personnel privacy issues, and this attorney has told me that the chair acts only to carry out the will of the Board of Elections," she read. "He does not have some superpower that enables him unilaterally to put a letter of reprimand in the file of any Board of Elections employee. Thus it would appear that this letter is not a letter of reprimand, since it was given to Ms. Hodges as an illegal action and was not brought to a public meeting nor a closed meeting, to allow the other members of the Board of Elections to consult and vote on this matter."
Campbell said the attorney also informed her there was no legal basis for demanding an employee's personal phone records. Hodges said Thursday that she is not currently providing any documentation of calls from her personal cell phone.
She also objected to the fact that the letter was not mentioned in the Nov. 4 meeting minutes and voted against approving the minutes for that reason.
"I believe that our chairman has stepped out of line more than once in his job as a member and chair of the Board of Elections," Campbell wrote. "This action, however, is completely outrageous, as it seeks to intimidate the Elections Director, who has had 27 years of experience and has worked hard and honestly all of those years. She does not deserve this."
Hodges said this was her first reprimand since she started her position in 1985. But the letter is mostly symbolic, as the Board of Elections cannot directly fire or discipline the director.
"It's not going to have any bearing on my job at all," she said.
Eggers did not say anything about the letter or Campbell's response Wednesday.
Although he typically votes with Eggers, Aceto has been quiet on his feelings about the matter.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's a moot point at this point," Aceto said Wednesday.
During the brief meeting, board members unanimously approved 102 new registrations, pending full review, as well as minutes for Nov. 5 and Nov. 12 meetings.
The board has cancelled its Jan. 1 meeting, so it will meet next at 5 p.m. Feb. 5.
"We will be starting our filing (for elected offices) later on that month, so that'll be an exciting month," Hodges said.