Sebastian County again searching for an election coordinator

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

Sebastian County is on the hunt for an election coordinator for the third time since November 2013 after the latest hire tendered his resignation Monday (June 16).

In a memo Tuesday (June 17) that gave the media about a two hour notice of a special meeting of the Election Commission meeting, Sebastian County Judge David Hudson said Robert Cowan — who was hired as election coordinator May 23 — had resigned. A memo to the Election Commission and County Clerk Sharon Brooks sent Monday notifying them of the resignation, the judge cited personal reasons for the departure.

"In consideration of family and business interests, the time required for elections coordination is not compatible with Mr. Cowan's schedule and available time," Hudson wrote.

Cowan previously served as vice president of finance at Rheem Manufacturing Company's air conditioning division in Fort Smith, as well as director of finance for United Technologies of Indianapolis and as a regional controller for Procter & Gamble in Greensboro, N.C.

Tuesday's special meeting was an executive session for the commission to interview Suzanne Morgan, who had been a finalist during the last round of interviews when Cowan had been hired. Morgan's resume said she previously served as a business manager for Fort Operating Company of Fort Smith, as well as a special education aid at Van Buren Public Schools and as a legal assistant for a Dallas-based law firm.

Hudson told The City Wire he would not be posting the position again since it was only filled weeks ago, instead depending on the applications and resumes that were submitted during the interview process that led to Cowan's hiring. He added that he would like to quickly fill the position since three elections are upcoming.

"We know at this time that we have two elections scheduled on the same day on August 12, the Fort Smith Library and the Barling city directors. There's three individuals running for city director in Barling. Both of those elections are August 12. Then there's a school election that's in September. … And then you have the November general election. So the meeting today is to consider another individual that we had interviewed and had considered a top candidate for this position so we can move on."

Hudson said he was unaware of any state statute that would require the county to again post the position before it could be filled.

Before the special meeting at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday (June 17), Hudson said he and Brooks had interviewed Morgan and Sebastian County Human Resources Director Steve Hotz confirmed that Morgan had previously been interviewed in May.

Election Commission Chairman Lee Webb told The City Wire he would like to see the Hudson wait before moving to hire a new coordinator, adding that he wanted to make sure the right person was in place instead of having high turnover continue.

One area of contention between Webb and Hudson is Hudson's desire to keep Cowan on temporarily to assist in the transition from himself to another candidate, which could possibly include Morgan. Webb said Cowan has not been on staff long enough to be able to assist in a transition and would instead like to see former Election Coordinator Jerry Huff return in a consulting capacity to assist the election commission in the short term. Huff's retirement set in motion the first attempt to hire now former Election Coordinator David Mansell, who resigned after a series of ballot mistakes. Mansell was subsequently replaced by Cowan.

"I would prefer getting Jerry back. I don't think Bob's up to speed enough on where we need to be at. He hasn't actually completed a complete election by himself other than the runoff, which we had a lot of help with."

During a Tuesday meeting of the Quorum Court, Hudson secured more than $2,900 in funding to pay out accrued leave time and other items from Huff's term. Hudson also stated during the earlier election commission meeting that if Huff were to return, it would have to be in a consultant's role since the state does not allow someone receiving retirement pension benefits from the state to be placed back on the salary.

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As for how to solve the problem of the revolving door, Webb did not have a solution, but noted that the job may need to bumped from a part-time, $27,000 per year position to a full-time role with higher pay in order to find a quality candidate should Hudson choose to move to another candidate besides Morgan.

"I believe it's a bigger job than what it's posted as. I think there's a whole lot more to it once someone gets ingrained in it. They say it's not really worth what it's getting paid and takes a lot more time than what Jerry probably ever put down on his time log."

No further action has yet been taken on whether to retain Cowan for the transition, hire Morgan or call Huff back for consulting services. Hotz said more information could be available as soon as next week on what next steps could be taken by the county.

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