Meigs election chief vote draws fire

Meigs election chief vote draws fire

April 21st, 2011 by Ben Benton in News

A split vote Monday night to dismiss Meigs County Administrator of Elections Deloris Grissom and hire Judy McAllister to replace her drew fire on Wednesday.

McAllister is the wife of Meigs County Republican Party Chairman Richard McAllister, who oversees party business and Republican appointments to the county Election Commission.

Grissom, also a Republican, was hired by the Election Commission two years ago when it was comprised of different members.

Judy McAllister said Wednesday that she doesn't think there was a conflict of interest in her husband's post and her new job.

McAllister said she was among applicants for the post when it was last open two years ago and was the lone nominee on Monday. She said she was not interviewed before or during the Monday night meeting.

"This is a political appointment," McAllister said. "There's not supposed to be an interview."

Richard McAllister did not reply to a request for comment, and Republican Election Commission Chairman Johnny Aikman and new Republican commissioners Kyle Rains and Vance Hughes couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.

Grissom said she believes the effort to give the job to McAllister had been in the works since Republicans won the majority in the General Assembly in 2008 which, under state law, forced the switch in Tennessee election commissions from Democrat-heavy panels to GOP-dominated ones.

In 2009, the newly Republican-dominant Election Commission reviewed resumes and conducted interviews en route to appointing Grissom as the administrator, she said.

Grissom said there was a strong push then to appoint McAllister to the administrator's job, and she was "surprised" when she was named to the post.

But Grissom wouldn't characterize Monday's appointment as a conflict.

"I want the general public to form their own opinion," she said.

The biggest concern is how the commission arrived at its decisions, she said.

On Monday, two new Republican Election Commission members attending their first meeting, Rains and Hughes, joined with Aikman in a 3-2 vote over Democrats Patricia S. Harris and Thomas E. Creasman to dismiss Grissom, officials said.

The vote was the same to hire McAllister, officials said.

Creasman, one of the panel's two Democrats, said he "regrets" the way the decision was made and knew of no reason to dismiss Grissom. Creasman and Harris voted no on both measures.

He noted that there are no rules against a single nominee being named or a nominee being a relative of a political party official.

Commissioners didn't discuss firing Grissom or hiring McAllister before the vote, Creasman said, though he stopped short of leveling accusations of Sunshine Law violations.

The Republican members "said they didn't have any conversations about it before the meeting, so I guess it must have been some sort of a miracle," he said.

Former Republican Election Commissioner Danny Carter, appointed two years ago and replaced this year, said he attended Monday's meeting and also questioned how the decision was made so quickly.

"How did those three guys come in and within 15 minutes decide to replace Ms. Grissom?" Carter asked. "It was their first commission meeting."

Grissom, who has held office or run for office as a Republican since 1986, said she believes she's the target of a handful of people, not her fellow Republicans.

"This is not the Republican Party as a whole speaking. The Republican Party has not been given a voice," Grissom said. "I would be fine with the decision if I felt like the decision was from the Republicans as a whole."