Stewart appointed elections leader

Gary B. Gray • Apr 10, 2012 at 10:44 PM

The Washington County Election Commission on Tuesday unanimously voted to appoint Maybell Stewart as the county’s permanent administrator of elections.

Stewart had been serving as interim administrator since commissioners voted 3-2 on Feb. 10 to fire Connie Sinks from the post after more than 28 years.

“The vote was unanimous to appoint her, and she will be taking tests required by the state to become certified,” said Chairwoman Janet Willis.

Stewart’s annual salary has been $51,315 since she was appointed interim administrator, and it will stay at that level until she is certified by the state. It is not immediately known whether her salary will increase at that time or by how much.

Stewart was office manager in February when Sinks fired staff member Rebecca Vines for sending a handwritten cover letter to three commission members in November asking that they use accompanying materials for a meeting that may or may not have occurred. Stewart was demoted for her knowledge of the alleged meeting, according to Sinks.

An employee found the letter in a box of documents that were about to be shredded.

At a Feb. 3 meeting, Sinks informed commissioners of her actions and blasted Willis and Commissioners Jon Ruetz and Thomas Graham for being the recipients, or intended recipients, of the letter without her knowledge and for not providing public notice of a meeting.

All three commissioners denied receiving the letter, a copy of which clearly shows them as the intended recipients. They also denied there was ever a meeting.

When she showed up Feb. 10 for a continuation of the prior meeting, the same three people voted to fire her after Willis stood and read aloud a prepared statement that asked for a vote on Sinks’ termination.

Since that time, Stewart was unanimously appointed to serve as interim administrator, Vines was reinstated, and Stewart and commissioners guided the county through the March 6 primary elections.

A few days after that election, Graham, a Democrat, came under fire by his own party for voting with Republicans Willis and Ruetz to fire Sinks. The Washington County Democratic Party Executive Committee held a meeting at which a call came to immediately remove Graham from the Election Commission.

The group voted to send a letter to Graham, asking for his resignation. It also voted to write the state Democratic Party and the state Election Commission asking for his removal and adding a vote of no confidence on his action against Sinks.

The State Election Commission did discuss Graham at its Monday meeting, but no formal action was taken against him.

“As with any termination of employment, there are people who get upset and are disappointed,” Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins said Tuesday. “Historically, the State Election Commission has been hesitant to get involved in personnel matters. Personnel matters are normally handled by human resource employees or the court system. At this point, our focus is assisting Washington County election officials with the August and November elections.”

Sinks has not spoken publicly.

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