Local Politics

Perdue: No changes yet on elections board

Posted August 17, 2010 5:48 p.m. EDT
Updated August 17, 2010 7:00 p.m. EDT

— As North Carolina Republican Party leaders continued to call Tuesday for replacing officials on the State Board of Elections, Gov. Beverly Perdue said she's not ready to make such a move.

Perdue is in an uncomfortable position because the elections board is in the middle of an investigation into campaign flights taken by her and other gubernatorial candidates.

Elections board staffers spent several months reviewing flights taken by Perdue and other candidates aboard donors' planes during the 2004 and 2008 gubernatorial campaigns that weren't reported. In a report released in June, chief investigator Kim Strach detailed a lack of proper documentation and reporting of flights by all candidates.

Gary Bartlett, executive director of the elections board, attributed the campaigns' errors to sloppy procedures and said there was no evidence of any intentional efforts to skirt campaign finance laws.

The full board is expected to address the report at a meeting next week in Asheville.

Since the report was issued, partisan charges have been lobbed by both Democrats and Republicans.

State GOP Chairman Tom Fetzer called for Bartlett and elections board Chairman Larry Leake to resign and for a criminal probe of their actions, alleging that they meddled in Strach's investigation to protect Perdue.

Meanwhile, Perdue's campaign questioned Strach's credibility and asked that she let someone else handle the probe because her husband, Phil Strach, was legal counsel for the state Republican Party. The GOP filed a complaint against Perdue's campaign last fall, which prompted the investigation.

In recent weeks, the elections board has come under fire for a deal with a company to supply ballots and for allegations that a friend of Bartlett sexually harassed elections board staff members.

Ralph Gable was fired last month from his job as a business manager for the elections board. He disputes claims that he created a hostile work environment and has filed a grievance to get his job back over what he calls "salacious allegations."

"We now have heard enough and know enough about the Board of Elections to know there are changes to be made there," Fetzer said Tuesday.

Leake said he has no plans to step down and expressed confidence in Bartlett's leadership and staff, despite recent tension within the agency.

Perdue, who appoints members to the elections board, stopped short of calling for change.

"The Board of Elections, like any board in North Carolina, has to be held to the highest standards of accountability and transparency," she said. "I haven't been able to get to the bottom of what (is happening within the board), and so that's what I'm trying to do now."