Fired election official seeks lockdown on Washington Co. email

Gary B. Gray • Jun 19, 2012 at 8:38 AM

Former Washington County Administrator of Elections Connie Sinks has taken the first few steps in what could result in legal action against the county and/or the county’s Election Commission resulting from her unexpected firing in February after more than 28 years on the job.

County officials received a certified letter last week from Knoxville attorney David Burkhalter II that advised all electronic communication that took place during the course of Sinks’ dismissal be pulled, copied and saved from computer hard drives.

Burkhalter addressed the letter to Dan Eldridge, county mayor; John Rambo, county attorney; Maybell Stewart, administrator of elections; Janet Willis, commission chairwoman; and Leslie Lacy, commission secretary.

The letter specifically requested communications from Bobbye Webb, the county’s finance director, and Election Commission personnel.

“To my knowledge, no one has been served with any papers initiating a lawsuit or a civil complaint,” Rambo said. “An attorney is allowed to send a letter that requires we preserve electronic records so that later, if they do file a lawsuit, we can provide those records.”

The letter does specify that Burkhalter is representing Sinks.

“It indicates that she’s hired an attorney and they are contemplating litigation,” Rambo said.

Neither Buckhalter nor Sinks was available for comment. Sinks has not spoken publicly about her dismissal other than to request that she be allowed to gather her personal belongings from her office at the time of the firing. She was denied that request.

Election commissioners voted 3-2 on Feb. 10 to fire Sinks.

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.

Stewart was unanimously appointed to serve as interim administrator on the spot, and Vines was immediately reinstated. Stewart was elected to serve as administrator, and she and commissioners guided the county through the March 6 primary elections.

Eldridge said Burk Consulting was hired to perform technical services needed to retain the information.

He said the letter did not reference an intent to sue, bit it did ask that all emails be secured.

“It was a certified request that we have to honor,” Eldridge said. “My whole object is to satisfy their requirement not knowing where it’s going from here. They’ve been placed in safe keeping.”

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