GAINESVILLE – Members of the Hall County Board of Elections and Registrations were silent Tuesday afternoon on any possible legal action they may take in an effort to gain supervisory control of the Elections Director position, but they weren’t hesitant to speak loudly in support of the Elections Director, Lori Wurtz, by what they said and did during the meeting.
Board members took turns verbally praising Wurtz’s work during the challenging 2020 election process, and then reinforced their words by unanimously passing a resolution to seek from the Hall County Commission a doubling of her staff for the next fiscal year, and to acquire additional space for her team to safely and securely store the ever-increasing volume of voting machinery they are required to maintain.
It was recently revealed that Wurtz was working under a 90-day performance improvement plan after receiving a poor job-performance evaluation from her supervisor, Assistant County Manager Zach Propes.
While the Hall County Board of Elections and Registrations oversees all aspects of the elections process it does not have supervisory control of the elections director - that responsibility belongs to the Hall County Administrator’s Office. Election Board members hinted several weeks ago that the possibility of legal action to gain that control was under consideration.
Board chairman Tom Smiley said in an email statement to AccessWDUN he was disappointed that county officials weren't willing to sit down with the board to discuss the issues.
Wurtz appeared before the Elections Board Tuesday primarily to present her department’s FY2022 proposed budget, but she also took time to update the board on her situation. “I have been meeting with Mr. Propes every other Friday and that has going really well.”
“He and I are meeting to discuss the items that he has asked (for) in my performance improvement plan and all of that is going extremely smooth,” Wurtz detailed. “I am a little bit ahead of schedule on that and I just wanted to make a report.”
After finishing her budget presentation, board member Craig Lutz commented on the fact that Wurtz’s proposed FY2022 budget did not include a funding request for additional elections department personnel despite the fact that the county’s population is increasing rapidly.
Lutz said to Wurtz, “I know the chairman has done some research and looked at counties of comparable size and most of them have eight (full time staff members). I did not hear a request for an increase in head count.”
Smiley read a list of comparably populated counties in Georgia and the number of staff members on their elections departments: “Richmond County has 125,428 voters and eight full time employees; Bibb County has 108,126 voters and eight full time employees; and Hall County has 138,800 voters with four employees.”
“I think that we need to ask for…four more full time equivalents going forward and I’ll present that probably in a motion,” Lutz said. “With that I think we also have to consider the training budget…and space for the (new) personnel.”
Wurtz was asked how much additional space her department would need in the Hall County Government Center for added personnel and the increase in voting equipment they must secure and maintain.
“We need double what we have right now,” Wurtz responded. “When Elections was put into the suite we are in now…we had less than 400 voting machines…we now have over 500 and each one of those voting machines now comes with its own printer. We have really been running very short on space.”
Wurtz was asked to revise her proposed budget and resubmit it. She agreed.
Board member David Kennedy commented, “I think all of the members of this board and all the members of the Elections Office really did a fantastic job this past year, and I did not fully realize…how underfunded and understaffed we are currently. With half the budget and staff of other comparably sized counties we did a better job than they did.”
“We met every single one of our deadlines; we certified every single one of our results; we passed every single one of our audits; there were no major issues,” Kennedy added.
Lutz made a motion that a request be made to the Hall County Board of Commissioners for funding to cover four additional full time employees, including the cost of their training, and for the county to conduct a floor-space study specifically for the Elections Department to determine the amount of additional space needed to accommodate those new employees as well as the growing stockpile of Elections Department equipment.
That motion was approved unanimously and Smiley told Wurtz he would personally accompany her when the resolution was presented to the Hall County Board of Commissioners.
Smiley then announced that a bylaw amendment would be presented to the Elections Board at its next meeting. “I will be bringing a bylaw amendment to our body for consideration…that will basically involve matters regarding supervision of the director.”
“It will be duly processed and publicized,” Smiley added.
That meeting is scheduled for April 13 at 3:30 p.m.