On Tuesday the Cascade County Commission voted 2-1 to strip election adminstration duties from Sandra Merchant and the Clerk & Recorders office, with commissioners Joe Briggs and Jim Larson voting for the resolution and commissioner Rae Grulkowski voting against.
Hundreds of people showed up to the meeting to express their thoughts and concerns over six hours of public comment.
And many had the same question. What comes next?
The resolution went into effect immediately after the meeting and the county humar resources director met with elections staff appointed by Merchant on Wednesday morning.
“(The meeting) is to assess whether we had an issue with some of those people not wanting to stay,” Briggs told MTN. “Hopefully, they will stay under new management and then that'll give us the size of the issue.”
The commission scheduled a meeting for Friday, December 15, 2023, to discuss an interim appointment. The public meeting begins at 11 a.m., and people can also attend virtually by clicking here.
But like all county hires, there’s a very well defined and thorough process involved in creating a new position and attracting candidates.
“We need to put a job description out quickly, get that out in the street. But as I pointed out, we are constrained legally on how we do things,” Briggs. “It's not like a business where you could set up basically who the replacements are going to be before you take an action. We have a very prescribed processes we have to use in order to be an equal opportunity employer. So, yeah, we have some scrambling to do.”
Briggs expressed optimism that there will be plenty of qualified candidates for the interim position, drawing from a pool of retired elections administrators statewide or even someone who worked in Cascade County elections previously.
A quick hire is not a sure thing, however. The county is still looking for a Chief Financial Officer, a position that was posted in Februrary but remains vacant. Grulkowski doesn’t believe a transition in the elections office will be seamless.
“We have been searching for a CFO for a year and we certainly need that position. We haven't found that. I don't know how this is going to come together. Not to mention starting over with training,” she said. “. I think the public needs to know, the commissioners have not met on this issue. As far as I'm concerned, we're not starting on page one. We're still looking at the cover. And that's not work. That's just not safe.”
Merchant will vacate the elections office but will remain the Clerk and Recorder. After Tuesday’s decision, it’s clear that there are major divisions within the Cascade County office. But it’s unclear if those decisions can be resolved.
“We’ve got to start with conversations but I meet closed doors every time I try to have these conversations,” Grulkoswki said. “And the people didn't elect us just to take the easy way out. It's hard work. You got to roll your sleeves up. You got to deal with the personalities you don't like, and you got to find the answers at the source and then be ready to stay with it until you can resolve it.”
The first scheduled election in 2024 will take place May 7, candidate filing begins in January.