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Elections board appeals after county blocks hazard pay

Elections Board Chair Charlie Medd gestures as he describes the board’s attempt to get hazard pay for elections employees.

After Henderson County commissioners blocked $16,000 in hazard pay for elections board employees, Charles “Charlie” Medd declared that the Elections Board would appeal.

A retired Navy captain, Medd quoted John Paul Jones’s response to a British ship seeking his surrender in 1779: “I have not yet begun to fight.”
Medd broke the news of the decision by the commissioners at an Elections Board meeting two weeks ago. The disputed bonus money is part of a $5 million appropriation
of federal CARES Act money through the state Legislature “to prevent,prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus pandemic during the 2020 federal election.” County elections board were able to apply for hazard pay for elections board employees.
The Henderson County Elections Board submitted a request for $16,000, originally seeking $13,500 for six fulltime employees and $500 each for the five Elections Board members. (The request was subsequently reduced to $13,360 to account for withholding taxes.) The state Board of Elections granted the request and sent the money to Henderson County.
“The state Board of Elections writes no checks other than the one check to the county for hazard pay,” Medd said, meaning the Board of Commissioners had to agree to
give the money to the elections employees and board members. After discussing the request in a closed meeting on April 21, commissioners said no.
“It is our position that these funds, if appropriated by the state, should be sent directly to the Elections Board and/or the staff,” County Commission Chair Bill Lapsley wrote in a letter to Medd the next day. “The Commission does not support any ‘hazard pay’ compensation to one small group of County employees out of the total County staff.”
Medd said he checked a second time with state Board of Elections and was told the board had no ability to send the money to the local Elections Board directly. At the May 4 meeting, Medd asked for and got the board’s support to appeal the county’s denial of the hazard pay request.
“We need to answer this letter,” he said. “I don't want this item to go cold. I want to keep this on the front burner.” The board divided up counties in Western North Carolina to see how they had handled the CARES Act request.
“What we’re doing right now is we are phoning the other counties to find out, one, did they receive hazard pay. If they did, what were the steps that they used, that’s where we are right now,” Medd said in an interview Monday. “Once they find out what other counties
have done, the board will draft a response and send it the county commissioners.”
The new request won’t include $500 apiece for board members.
“We withdrew,” Medd said. “We said we’re not going to ask for hazard pay. We want the staff to get it. I thought if we got out of the fight it would be better for the staff to receive it.”
The proposed bonuses included $4,175 for elections director Karen Hebb, $1,670 for two deputies and $1,252 for three employees, though the amounts would be slightly more when the amount originally set aside for the board was distributed instead to the staff.
During the May 4 meeting, Hebb noted that commissioners have been supportive of her department.
“The Board of Commissioners has always been wonderful to our office,” she said. “If we've asked for anything, they’ve made our life a lot easier. I don't want to cause
She also said the elections process had been challenging last year.
"It was probably one of the hardest elections this county's ever had, to make it fair, honest, fraud proof,” she said. “We had no reports of anyone getting Covid, we didn't have poll workers get sick, no staffers got sick, none of the board got sick.”
Lapsley and Vice Chair Rebecca McCall both said they opposed rewarding one department when many others — including first
responders, public health nurses and other county employees — faced risk doing their jobs during the pandemic. They also said that Medd had excluded them from his request to meet.
“He specifically mentioned that he did not want to meet with myself or Bill Lapsley when he initially made that request,” McCall said.
Medd described that as a misunderstanding.
“I just picked three because that was the majority,” he said. “I asked if they would give me a call. I just picked those three. I don’t know them (Lapsley and McCall). I have nothing against them. I just picked three people — eeny, meeny, miny, moe.”
Medd said he’s optimistic that commissioners will reconsider and grant the revised hazard pay request. He also wants a joint meeting with both boards to resolve the conflict.
“We would like to,” he said. “That’s going to be in the letter.”
“I have good feelings,” he said.
“I think when the letter is finally put together, the commissioners will agree with us. … I think
that once they understand the picture I don’t think there will be any problem.”