(pictured above: BOE members (from left) Fleming El-Amin and Ken Raymond listen as Stuart Russell speaks.)
Citizens hoping to make their voices heard about the Forsyth County Board of Elections’ firing of its director, Rob Coffman, left the Forsyth County Government Center with their questions unanswered Monday evening.
The Board of Elections’ regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 27 had been moved to the Multi-Purpose Room upstairs to accommodate the larger than normal crowd of attendees, which numbered around two dozen. Many of those present at the meeting were seeking answers about the termination of Coffman, who served as director of Elections for more than seven years.
During the 4:30 p.m. meeting, the three-member board voted to postpone the public comment session to another meeting and discuss the appointment of an interim director in a closed session immediately after the public portion of the meeting. Fleming El-Amin, the lone Democrat on the board, asked that the Board inform the audience of the date when the public comment would be allowed, but Board Chair Raymond declined, saying, “That meeting has yet to be set.”
El-Amin thanked attendees for their presence.
“Thank you everybody for showing up this afternoon – we appreciate and respect your time,” he stated. “Please come back.”
Assistant County Attorney Lonnie Albright recommended that the board discuss the interim position in closed session because it is a personnel issue. Raymond hinted to his intentions of appointing Deputy Director of Elections Lamar Joyner to the interim post, stating that he and Joyner had discussed the possibility prior to the meeting Joyner indicated that he was up for the task. Many of the citizens present at the meeting expressed frustration at not being allowed to speak.
“People went to some trouble to attend that meeting and it turned out to be a nothing of a meeting because there was no chance for the public to speak, to voice any opinions,” declared Anne Wilson, a local concerned resident.
In its petition to dismiss Coffman, the board, which is home to two Republicans and one Democrat, cited “egregious transgressions” that Coffman had allegedly made, saying that he either “purposely misled” Secretary Stuart Russell or “recklessly responded to important requests of his.” The petition also alluded to Coffman’s “controversial history,” specifically an incident in 2008 in which he called an African American temporary employee a “crack ho,” for which he reportedly attended sensitivity training, and his “disrespect” towards Board Chair Ken Raymond and the Civitas Institute, a right wing conservative organization. Coffman’s mishandling of a recount in three Tobaccoville precincts following the 2013 General Election Village Council candidates was also called into question in the nine-page petition.
Wilson, who was arrested along with her husband during Moral Mondays protests at the NC Legislature in June, admitted that the Tobaccoville count was a cause for concern, however, as a newcomer to the board, she believes that Raymond acted rashly in firing Coffman.
“He is too early in this position to be firing anybody,” she said. “I was not a fan of Rob Coffman’s. I don’t think we were of the same political ilk, but I know that Rob knew this business inside and out.”
City native Constance Bradley, a retired mental health nurse, believes Coffman’s actions over four years ago should not have in any way predicated the actions of the current board.
“To me it just doesn’t make no sense,” she declared. “All the stuff they had, they went over it before, and now it’s back up again, and all at once, it’s just so important.”
Bradley, an active member of the Forsyth County Democratic party, believes that the board had ulterior motives for ousting Coffman.
“I think the Republicans just want him off because I think they’ve got somebody else that they want to put in so they can keep knocking us (progressives) down like they always do,” she said. “…You shouldn’t hold stuff against him after he’s already been treated.”
Kim Strach, executive director of the State Board of Elections, confirmed the local board’s decision on Jan. 17, however North Carolina law requires a 15 day window in which to “consider Ms. Strach’s decision,” Raymond explained.
Rev. Paul Lowe, chair of the Democratic Party’s Fifth Congressional District, said he believes the board’s actions were politically motivated.
“I’m not sure he should have been terminated,” said Lowe, the pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church. “There may have been a need for some kind of reprimand, but not termination.”