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Sebastian County Election Coordinator resigns after ballot error

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

It didn't take long for new Sebastian County Election Coordinator David Mansell to tender his resignation following the discovery of a mistake on the Republican primary ballots to be used in the upcoming May election.

According to Election Commission Chairman Lee Webb, the mistake on the Republican primary ballot involved the candidates for lieutenant governor.

"The Republican lieutenant governor's race had the positions in the wrong place on the ballot. He had them in the wrong order. Basically, they were already at the printers and we had to stop the printers."

Webb said the error was caught on Thursday (March 20) by former Election Coordinator Jerry Huff — who had previously agreed to assist the county in training Mansell throughout this year's elections — as the county's printing vendor was preparing plates to print the ballots.

"It wasn't his job anymore, but he went back and caught this error. He asked Mr. Mansell if that was correct and he said yes, he had messed up."

The mistake was far from the first issue to arise since Mansell took the job, Webb said.

"We'd had some other issues prior to that. But being new in the position, I think there was more to the job then he thought there was to it. It's not an easy job. You have to be meticulous about checking and double checking. And it didn't get done. It was a bad enough mistake, I think he decided he should resign before it got…he resigned before I even heard about the full extent of it. Before I heard what the whole problem was, he had resigned."

Webb stressed that Mansell was not asked to resign by him or others on the commission, since "none of the commissioners had talked to him before resigning. It was completely his own decision."

The resignation of Mansell is just the latest twist in a saga that started in November 2013 with the interview process for the election coordinator position.

At the time of the interviews, Hudson had attempted to conduct an executive session so interviews could be conducted privately, which on its own is not illegal. According to A.C.A. § 25-19-106, section 2a, states, "Only the person holding the top administrative position in the public agency, department, or office involved, the immediate supervisor of the employee involved, and the employee may be present at the executive session when so requested by the governing body, board, commission, or other public body holding the executive session."

At issue in the meeting was Sebastian County Judge David Hudson's request that County Clerk Sharon Brooks participate in the executive session, even though she would not have direct supervision or hire/fire authority over the elections coordinator.

The City Wire, the only media outlet to attend the meeting, objected to the inclusion of the county clerk's office in the executive session based on The City Wire's understanding of A.C.A. § 25-19-106. Once Hudson agreed to conduct the executive session in a legal manner, three candidates, including Mansell, met with the Election Commission and Hudson.

Webb said the commission was not satisfied with the candidates interviewed during the executive session and wanted to keep the position open while more applicants were sought for the position, but he said the commission was shut out of the process following that meeting.

"Initially, in that meeting that you referenced, our initial thought was to interview more people. We had three people that we interviewed and for some reason, I chose to look further. But the reason we hired one of those, I don't know. I didn't have any input on that. Originally we were going to look for other people."

Speaking by telephone Wednesday (March 26), Hudson refused to discuss Mansell's hiring process.

"The background on David Mansell is water under the bridge," he said. "It's not really conducive to moving forward to evaluating the (procedures that lead to Mansell's hiring). What I'm going to do is move forward at this point and work with everybody as effectively as I can. Get someone in the position as quick as I can and get them trained and continue to have effective elections. I'll work with the Election Commission and the county clerk. I understand the organizational structure and the relationships and we'll move forward."

Asked again to answer Webb's accusations that the commission was shut out of the hiring process for an election coordinator to work out of its office, Hudson again sidestepped the issue.

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"I think that what I would want to do is communicate with you after I've reviewed this in more detail and I can give you something in a memo format. I will continue to work with Lee in a pro-active and cooperative fashion just like I have done to this point. I think if you look at the record, that is the record. That's what I'll continue to do."

Hudson said the search for Mansell's replacement would begin immediately, adding that he hoped to have someone in place before the May 20 election.

Webb said Huff would continue to assist the county to ensure a smooth election.

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