Elections board threatens suit

Published 11:11 am Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Lawrence County Board of Elections Monday afternoon approved a resolution, asking the Lawrence County Commission to address the payroll deficit in that office’s salaries account.

A second resolution is a bit more stern: if the necessary money transferred is not addressed on or before Dec.4, elections officials will go the following day to Lawrence County Prosecutor J.B. Collier Jr. and ask him to either file a lawsuit on behalf of the elections board or appoint a special prosecutor to do so. The votes on both resolutions were unanimous.

Last week the commission transferred $11,000 to allow the elections office to make payroll through the end of November. But that leaves payroll for December in question. Elections officials said they need another $14,500 for that. The next payroll is Dec. 12. Board of Elections Chairperson Karen Matney Simmons said other officeholders don’t run their offices for free, the elections office should not be expected to do so either.

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“We don’t want to be difficult at all,” Simmons said. “But it’s embarrassing to have to beg for the money to run our office and not have to lay off employees at Christmas time— over elections, you know?”

Elections Director Cathy Overbeck said the $14,500 for payroll does not address bills that have piled up and have not been paid. Some of those bills, she said, were for the November election.

“There are bills, obviously, that have to be paid and there are bills up there (in the auditor’s office),“ Overbeck said.

She contended the office is not overspending, it was underfunded to begin with. Board member Robert Griffith agreed.

“We were defeated before we got started,” he said.

Overbeck said her office, with only a staff of four, is doing more work and serving more registered voters than it did several years ago when six people staffed the elections office. There are now nearly 46,000 registered voters. two years ago that figure was closer to 35,000.

Board member Craig Allen, who is also an attorney, said the board of elections will ask the Lawrence County Common Pleas Court to give the matter highest priority.