After a controversial past three months with members of the Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners, Efrem Elliott has resigned as election coordinator. Jefferson County Judge Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV made the announcement Friday during a meeting at the Election Center.
“What I wanted was peace for Jefferson County, because it seemed to be a lot of extra-curricular things that have been going on back and forth with commissioners doing stuff that they have absolutely no business doing like going into people’s personal business and stuff like that,” Elliott said as a reason for his resignation.
The board voted 2-to-1 to de-certify Elliott on Jan. 4, who was appointed to the position in October 2017, based on “no performance of assigned duties.”
At that same meeting, Wilkins said he was in the “process of re-negotiating the election coordinator status in terms of pay, person, and hours.” Elliott’s replacement is Rachel Cherry, who currently serves as Wilkins’ secretary.
“I have a very high expectation that this appointment will work, and if it does not, based upon Ms. Cherry’s work background and so forth, then that will be a real concern, I think, to the community if it doesn’t work out,” said Wilkins.
Upon hearing the news, Jefferson County Board of Election Commission Secretary Stu Soffer could barely contain his excitement. He praised Wilkins’ appointment of Cherry as election coordinator.
“I support that,” said Soffer. “That woman has the ability. She is sharp.”
Cherry, similar to Elliott, has no experience in working elections. However, Soffer offered to provide her with training free-of-charge despite the board turning down Elliott’s request for on-the-job training because he allegedly received training from the previous coordinator.
“Her skillset is more aligned with what I think we need that’s available in this area,” said Soffer. “She knows numbers (and) she knows management (and) I’m impressed with her qualifications (and) I was impressed with her qualifications in the judge’s office. She has an administrative capability that I did not see in Mr. Elliott.”
Despite being inexperienced, Elliott believes Cherry will adjust to the role of election coordinator, especially with the help and support of the board members.
“She’s coming in just like me not really knowing what the position is, but I am happy and I am elated that they are going to work with her,” Elliott said. “I’m not sure what the difference is, but I’m happy that they’re going to work with her.”
And while Soffer was happy about the decision in selecting Cherry, Adam seemed to be split on the announcement.
“I’m not thrilled that this is the way that it is,” Adam said. “I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. I think that she is a very intelligent person. I think she’s pretty good with numbers from (what) I’ve seen, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to be a good coordinator.”
In addition to Cherry’s lack of experience, Adam noted that Cherry’s full-time job as Wilkins’ secretary could later pose an issue for the demands of the job as election coordinator.
“I know it’s a problem, because even though it’s only a 15 or 20-hour job right now, when we get close to an election it’s going to be an 80-hour job, and this is going to be a very big election,” Adam said.
Sims also expressed concern about Cherry’s lack of experience, questioning the appointment of another election coordinator with no background in elections.
“My concern was the argument that they all been having on experience, because if that’s the case we could’ve had someone in here,” Sims said. “But, that has been their argument, ‘oh, the person doesn’t have experience, so why should we hire them?’”
In the Jan. 4 meeting, the board made a motion to select and appoint Julie Kendrick and LaTasha Johnson as election clerks. However, Wilkins said Kendrick’s hiring would be “contingent upon the willingness of the election commission and Ms. Kendrick to coordinate her hours with the election coordinator in which she would be present... .”
Adam and Soffer disagreed with the idea, prompting them to consult with counsel, who suggested they allow the election coordinator to handle assigned duties. But, after hearing Cherry would be the election coordinator, Adam and Soffer said they would be open to the idea if Cherry and Kendrick didn’t have any issues with it. Cherry and Kendrick were not present at the meeting.
“If she wants Ms. Kendrick, we have no problem with it,” said Adam and Soffer collectively.
Wilkins believes his choice to select Cherry as election coordinator will aid in getting things accomplished with the primary election coming in May.
“I needed somebody that I feel has trustworthiness, has the personality, and the life skills and experience to do the job and be her own person in doing that job,” Wilkins said. “Some of the other people who have left before... what they said was it’s a hostile work environment.”
Elliott echoed the same sentiments from Wilkins.
“I thought I was prepared, but once I got in there some of the things that were done in reference to me caused a hostile work environment,” Elliott said.
During the meeting, the board approved a motion to send a letter to the judge requesting that the new election coordinator close out the school elections, give weekly updates on the progress of assigned duties, notify the chairman of meetings four days in advance and get the signature of the chairman of the commission for any expenditure of funds. The motion was passed unanimously. The board also approved the format for the provisional ballot envelope for the upcoming elections by a unanimous vote.