Former elections director says the county board repeatedly got involved in personnel decisions
Columbia, SC (WLTX) - The fired director of the Richland County Elections agency says his superiors gave him a series of "unlawful orders" that he couldn't comply with, which ultimately led to his dismissal.
Howard Jackson spoke to reporters Tuesday afternoon, the day after the Richland Elections Commission Board voted 4-1 to remove him from his job.
"I think it came down to power," Jackson said about the series of events that led to Monday's vote.
According to Jackson, the board continually tried to override his decisions about personnel and policy since he took over in June of last year, and told him he was insubordinate when he didn't.
"I chose not to obey those unlawful orders," Jackson. "I have to be able to look myself in the mirror at night."
In particular, Jackson cited a confrontation over what to do with the former deputy director of the agency, Garry Baum. He said Baum made errors, including not charging election machines, for the November 2013 election. When Jackson said he brought concerns about the employee to the board, he was told to "stand down."
Jackson said he believes the reason he wasn't allowed to get rid of Baum or discipline him is because Baum is State Sen. Joel Lourie's brother-in-law.
News19 contacted Lourie, who told us that any suggestion of he is involved is "false and completely inaccurate." Lourie went on to say "I have had no contact with the director, or anyone else at the commission regarding Garry, when he was working there or when he was terminated." Related Coverage:Sen. Lourie Talks About Election Office Allegations
Jackson said he hired a replacement, who he says is a competent employee who currently runs an election office in another part of the state, but encountered problems. He said he was asked by members of the board "what color is he" about the new hire. Jackson said that when they found out the new employee was African-American, he was told to rescind the offer and open up the process again.
Following the November elections, where over 1,000 votes went uncounted, Jackson wanted to do an after-election summary with his staff members. However, he said one board member approached one of his employees and demanded parts of that report before it was finished.
He said he frequently ran into issues where his authority was superceded as the board tried to run the office. He said at least 10 times, he was reminded by board members that he served at the pleasure of the them, and could be let go at any time.
Jackson now says he'll turn over documents to the State Law Enforcement Division Wednesday and will give agents a deposition.
"I just want the truth to come out, I challenge the board to do the same," Jackson said.
News19 is working to get comment on Jackson's remarks from county and state officials.
This is just the latest concern for the troubled county agency, In November of 2012, voters had to wait as long as seven hours to cast their ballots. A report later determined that not enough voting machines were distributed that day. The election director at the time, Lillian McBride, resigned in the wake of the controversy, but took another role within the elections department.