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Was the Washington County Election Commission correct in firing administrator?

Staff Report • Feb 20, 2012 at 7:04 AM

The Washington County Election Commission voted Feb. 10 to fire longtime Elections Administrator Connie Sinks.

Their action came a week after Sinks confronted three election commissioners — the same members who would later vote to dismiss her — regarding a hand-written letter to them authored by one of her office employees.

As Press staff writer Gary B. Gray reported earlier this month, Sinks told election commissioners on Feb. 3 that had fired one staff member and demoted another for sending a handwritten cover letter to three members in November asking that they use supporting materials for a meeting the document said was to occur in the following week.

After consultation with County Attorney John Rambo, Sinks said she fired Rebecca Vines, an administrative assistant, for insubordination, claiming the employee alerted the three members about a November meeting, for which a public notice was never given.

The memo was discovered in a box of documents that were ready to be shredded. In it, Vines writes that she is including a list of 2012 election information prepared for the meeting.

“I have handwritten this cover letter because I didn’t want to risk it with the office computer,” she wrote.

Vines also noted that “Maybell and I wanted to get this material to you quickly so you will be ready for your lunch meeting this coming Monday.”

Maybell Stewart, who formerly held the title of office manager, was stripped of that position, suspended for one day and her pay was cut from $16.89 per hour to $15.89 per hour.

Sinks told this newspaper that it was her belief that three members of the commission had met in violation of the state’s Sunshine Law. It was a charge that Election Commissioners Janet Willis and Jon Ruetz (both Republican members) and Thomas Graham (a Democrat) said was untrue. They also said they had never received the letter regarding the meeting. A week later, the same three members voted to fire Sinks. Commissioners Suzanne Chinouth (a Republican) and Leslie Lacy (a Democrat) voted against the dismissal. Willis, reading from a prepared statement, said Sinks had created a hostile work environment and had not acted properly in firing Vines and demoting Stewart.

She also said Sinks had used employees to run personal errands and that “every election is cause for concern.”

Stewart, who just the week before had lost her title as office manager, was named to serve as interim administrator by commissioners on Feb 10. In one of her first actions in the job, Stewart rehired Vines.

We want to know what you think. Was the Washington County Election Commission correct in firing Connie Sinks?

Send your comments to Mailbag, P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605-1717, or mailbag@johnsoncitypress.com  . Please include your name, telephone number and address for verification. We will print your responses on the Opinion pages in the coming weeks.

You also can go to www.johnsoncitypress.com to cast a vote in the online poll. Results of the poll, along with comments from readers, will appear on the Opinion page Feb. 28.

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