County Commissioners on Tuesday called emails exchanged between Probate Judge Donald Boyd and board of elections member Ellen Gilmore “very disturbing” and voted to send a letter recommending the elections board take “appropriate action” on the conversations in the emails.
Commission Chairman Ricky Wolfe announced Tuesday following a closed executive session that lasted about 90 minutes that county staff, after retrieving hundreds of pages of email exchanges between Boyd and Gilmore requested for an open records request, had “done due diligence” in investigating the matter. He said the commission was requesting that County Manager Tod Tentler draft a letter to elections board chairman Jane McCoy, asking the board “to deal with this matter in what they consider to be the most appropriate fashion.”
“We find this body of evidence to be very alarming,” Wolfe said, referring to the emails. “It’s very personal, it’s very hurtful (and) it undermines the credibility, the effectiveness and erodes the public trust in the elections process. There’s nothing we do in this body that is more important than the protection of the elections process.”
Wolfe added that the board found the emails “to be a breach of confidentiality for items discussed in executive session,” referring an email where Gilmore and Boyd discussed the suspension of then-elections supervisor Amy Hyatt, who resigned in April. In emails, Boyd and Gilmore spoke about Hyatt supposedly being suspended for tampering with time clock information when she was chief registrar, a claim Boyd said he was told by then-county manager Mike Dobbs. Tentler and Dobbs said Hyatt was suspended for excessive tardiness.
“We also find it to be conduct that is unbecoming of a public officer,” Wolfe said Tuesday. “We have decided to take this course of action because we want to do everything we possibly can to avoid the necessity of litigation on this subject.”
Boyd vs. board of commissioners
Until Jan. 1, Donald Boyd had served as elections superintendent for Troup County since taking office as probate judge in 2000. Last year, commissioners voted to create the Board of Elections and Registration and employ an elections superintendent to take over the duties.
Amy Hyatt, who had served as chief registrar, was voted by commissioners to become the new elections superintendent. The board, which helps determine eligibility of voters and resolve issues related to polling places and general oversight of elections, was formed with representatives from local government and political bodies.
In initial meetings after commissioners announced plans to move forward with board, Boyd questioned the decision. He said he was notified two days before the meeting that the commission was planning to create the board, and commissioners did not ask him for input on what the board would need for elections prior to making their decision.
“I was not happy with the way they created the board,” Boyd said last week. “They created the board seemingly out of nowhere. They had not talked to me about anything.”
Boyd said county officials told him cost and transparency were the main issues they wanted to address, but was not told how the board would make elections any more transparent or cost-effective.
“It’s a lot of work taken away from me,” Boyd said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to have it, but I don’t feel they went the right way about it.”
Boyd added that he didn’t want it to seem that he didn’t want to do the job he was elected to do.
Tentler said the county went to the election board format because of a perception that one person was in control of elections. Tentler said the board creates a more open and honest election process, “whether by view or reality.”
“There are more people involved in the process,” Tentler said. “(Boyd) had issues with it. We had many criticisms and complaints that we had to defend.”
Tentler didn’t elaborate on what issues the county had with Boyd, but said in one case, the county had to pay out a settlement because of him.
Boyd said the only time a settlement was paid was due to a racial discrimination suit filed by Larry Harris, a former sheriff’s candidate who sued Boyd, then-Sheriff Donny Turner and the county. Harris, who is black, had been rejected by Boyd as a candidate for Democrat after not filing proper paperwork, and later entered as an independent, although Boyd said some of the signatures Harris had gathered to qualify as an independent candidate were not properly notarized.
After hearings over the issue, where Harris was ultimately allowed to run, he sued claiming discrimination. Boyd said Tentler and Dobbs asked him to sign off on a settlement for their insurance that would be easier and cheaper than fighting the suit.
Tentler also pointed to cost savings in the board’s creation. Boyd said he received a $3,800 annual supplement for acting as elections superintendent. Tentler said that last year, on top of his supplement, Boyd also received $24,784.71 for additional duties, which came from the county’s elections budget.
Boyd said the additional pay was for performing logic and accuracy testing on each of the county’s 134 voting machines. He said the tester has to be certified and that hiring someone from company Premier Election Solutions, which prints the county’s ballots, to do the job would cost $8,000 to $9,000 per election. There were five elections last year: a special election for Sunday alcohol sales, general primary and general elections, plus two runoffs.
“It was a choice of hiring someone else or doing it myself,” Boyd said. “So I figured if it would be cheaper for me to do it, the county would be better off for it. Those are questions that could’ve been answered if someone had come and talked to me, but they never asked.”
Tuesday, before commissioners voted on their recommendation to the Board of Elections, Commissioner Tripp Foster asked to read a particular email from April 30 “that I feel is deeply disturbing and, in my opinion, I feel like it undermines mission of the elections board and egregiously violates the public trust.”
The email, sent by Ellen Gilmore to Boyd, was on the topic of former elections superintendent Amy Hyatt. In part, it states:
“I would like to see them (the commissioners) come crawling back on hands and knees admitting that in their arrogance they made a horrible mistake. I won’t hold my breath on that one. If I were not on this board, I would not know a thing about this, but sadly I am where I am. They better not try to blame the board for any of this, but I know them and would not be surprised at anything they might try. Arrogance and incompetence is a dangerous combination. Jane (McCoy, elections board chairman) is nothing but a lapdog for Ricky (Wolfe, commission chairman), in way over her head, in my opinion.”
Foster condemned the content of the emails.
“There are many things over time, on several points, politically speaking, where I have agreed with Mrs. Gilmore, and I can say that,” Foster said. “But on these emails that I’ve read, on these numerous pages, there’s a lot right here that I can’t agree with. And this is specifically about these emails and it’s not about anything outside of that. I am deeply troubled by this.”
In one email, Boyd criticizes county officials as trying to control the elections process.
“I think Tod (Tentler), Ricky (Wolfe), and (County CFO Scott) Turk thought and still think they know better than anyone else what to do and whoever they get (to be elections supervisor) will be a bobble head for them,” he wrote. “… They have made it clear to me they don’t want my help. I hate it for the county, but part of me is enjoying this.”
In another email, Gilmore asks Boyd to help find the voting records of fellow board members to find their political affiliation. She asks to meet with him, which Boyd agreed to, in order to search for Jane McCoy’s voting record.
“I have no party affiliation any more,” McCoy told the Daily News on Tuesday. “The board is neutral; it’s no place for party business.”
In some of the emails, Gilmore, while a member of the elections board, shares information with Boyd on topics and issues the board was discussing. They also discuss Hyatt’s suspension, a matter county officials say should not have been shared outside of closed executive session.
Boyd maintains that former County Manager Mike Dobbs shared the information with him, and that if executive session was violated, it was Dobbs. Dobbs said last week he doesn’t recall what he told Boyd when Hyatt was suspended.
“Executive session was breached in my opinion and our attorney’s opinion,” Tentler said. “I’m not sure if there is anything illegal about breaking executive session, or if it’s just unethical.”
Hyatt resigned April 25. In her resignation letter, Hyatt wrote that constant corrections by County CFO Scott Turk to her work and an incident April 24 where he sent her corrections on minutes for her Board of Elections meeting along with a link to a “Website for Dummies” about how to hold a meeting, was “very offensive to me and I feel that it was truly wrong and hurtful.”
Tentler said in conversation with Hyatt, she also mentioned treatment by Ellen Gilmore and Boyd as reasons for wishing to resign.
“Yes, Boyd and Gilmore contributed,” Tentler said. “She felt scrutiny from them.”
Boyd said he “never went in that office. I never did anything to obstruct Amy to do her job. I told about her suspension, and the complaints of absenteeism can all be verified.”
Boyd said although he regrets some of the things he may have said, he stands by everything as true and that he did nothing unethical. Gilmore said Tuesday that she stands behind everything she said as well.
“A lot of it was my opinion, and I stand behind every word,” Gilmore said. “…Those were personal emails, really my expression for the desire of this board to know something about elections and do so without being told we have no business asking questions about anything.”
Boyd added that he and the Gilmores “are not close friends.”
“They’ve filed complaints against me” in 2008 and 2011, Boyd said. “All she ever told me was that she wants things to get done right.”
He added that he didn’t provide her with anything above ordinary.
“Mrs. Gilmore came to me wanting help, and I said I’d help any way I could,” Boyd said. “(Elections board member) J.C. Cameron also came to me and I helped him too. The county indicated that it didn’t want me to help. … I didn’t say anything to her that I wouldn’t say to the whole board or to county officials.”
Tentler said county officials also were disturbed that Gilmore was sending personal correspondences to Boyd last year while Gilmore was a candidate and Boyd still elections superintendent. Tentler said last week the county was weighing what options it may pursue over those concerns.
Undermining the board?
“This Troup County Board of Commissioners worked over a year to organize a board and send it to our legislators to get it passed in legislation,” said Commissioner Morris Jones on Tuesday. “All Troup County Board of Commissioners wanted this for was to be fair, effective and efficient in our local elections. These emails show me there’s an attempt to undermine this board. If this board cannot work efficiently, then I am very disturbed by these emails that just came out.”
In one incident, Boyd refused to hand over documents to Hyatt on poll workers. Hyatt, in an email to County CFO Scott Turk, said Boyd was keeping her from completing a necessary budgetary task. Boyd said he didn’t want to hand over the documents that contained poll workers’ birthdays and social security information to Hyatt, and that she could obtain the necessary budget information from the payroll department.
“I was not comfortable giving her that documentation,” he said.
Tentler said he felt the emails showed a general collusion of Boyd and Ellen Gilmore to obstruct operations.
“There’s a lot of frustration to realize that there are people on the committee to run elections who are seemingly trying to undermine elections,” Tentler said.
Gilmore denied that she was trying to undermine the board, saying she was trying make sure the board followed state laws and proper protocols. She pointed out that a recent decision by the commission to create a committee of officials to hire a new elections supervisor isn’t consistent with state law, which gives the elections board power to hire a new superintendent.
Gilmore also said that chairman Jane McCoy has not properly followed Robert’s Rules of Order at meetings and repeated that she believes McCoy is carrying out the wishes of Commission Chairman Ricky Wolfe.
She said that Tentler and county officials have not responded to requests she has made for instruction on training for board members or replied to concerns she laid out on the board’s operation procedures. She said she recently went to Kennesaw State University for training on the elections process, “on my own dime,” to learn more.
In an email, McCoy said on Feb. 1 that Gilmore was in the office of Elections and Registration acting in an “intrusive, intimidating manner.” McCoy said she was intimidated by Gilmore’s “words, tone of voice and manner.”
“Her presence in the Registrar’s Office interfered with the employees’ ability to perform assigned tasks,” McCoy wrote in an email. “I feel that the purpose of her visit was to intimidate the employees, and Amy (Hyatt) in particular.”
The Gilmores pointed out that the email was sent to people who were not on the elections board, and was published in local media.
“Her words were simply her personal opinion and were inappropriate for the chairman of any board to be printed in a public venue,” Bill Gilmore wrote in an email to LaGrange Daily News and Valley Times-News.
Bill Gilmore also said that McCoy has a personal problem with the Gilmores that started after she took down some of the Gilmores’ signs opposing the special-purpose, local-option sales tax vote in 2011. McCoy denied that there was any personal animosity from her to Gilmore.
“No (it’s not personal), Mrs. Gilmore has a lot of remarkable qualities and an attention to detail,” McCoy said. “… I respect Mrs. Gilmore, and I hope she would respect me.”
Tuesday, commissioners unanimously voted to have County Manager Tod Tentler draft a letter to Board of Elections and Registration chairman Jane McCoy encouraging the board to take “appropriate action” on the issues commissioners identified in the emails.
Part of the letter states:
“The BOC (Board of Commissioners) was extremely concerned by this email correspondence. As you know, the BOER (Board of Elections and Registration) plays a vital role in the elections process and it seems clear that (Mrs.) Gilmore’s intent is to obstruct and undermine its operations and credibility. It specifically appears as reflected in (Mrs.) Gilmore’s email dated April 20, 2013, that she intends for the BOER, which in her opinion was a ‘horrible mistake,’ to fail so that the BOC would ‘come back [to the former election superintendent] crawling on its hands and knees.’ Moreover, it appears from these emails that (Mrs.) Gilmore violated the confidentiality of an executive session of the BOER [email of April 29, 2013] and engaged in conduct that is both unbecoming for a public official and a breach of public trust. Accordingly, the BOC also unanimously included in its vote a request that the BOER review the enclosed documents and take appropriate action in regard to (Mrs.) Gilmore’s continued service on the BOER to address this situation.”
Boyd said Tuesday afternoon that he was unaware of commissioners’ actions until he was called by the Daily News. Ellen Gilmore, who had attended the meeting when the commissioners announced the results of the their closed session, said she was shocked. She had attended to ask Tentler about an open records request she made and said she was not aware the board was discussing the issue.
She questioned why the commission went into executive session citing “potential litigation” to talk about the emails. She said the commission’s explanation of the matter also was vague.
“I realize that these people plot and plan, and they’re doing that right now,” Gilmore said Tuesday afternoon.
McCoy said Tuesday she had met with Tentler and received the letter. She also had received packets with the email information to give to each board member to research before making any decisions.
“I am aware of the situation and will comply with the Board of Commissioners’ recommendation,” McCoy said in a written statement to the Daily News. “Per the BOC’s request, there will be a called meeting held as soon as possible in order to bring the issue before the Board of Elections and Registration for consideration.”