By Jesse Wood
Dec. 5, 2013. The Watauga County Board of Elections met for routine business on Wednesday evening, during which Kathleen Campbell, the lone Democrat board member, refused to vote in favor of approving past meeting minutes because those minutes, which are prepared by Chair Luke Eggers, did not document for the record a letter of reprimand that was given to 27-year veteran Elections Director Jane Ann Hodges more than a month ago.
The minutes pertain to a Nov. 4 meeting, when Hodges handed out a letter of reprimand that was given to her by Eggers sometime prior to the meeting. Hodges gave it to Campbell and Secretary Bill Aceto to review. Because Eggers considered it a personnel matter, Eggers didn’t comment on the undisclosed letter at the meeting. Aceto and Hodges remained mum on the matter as well.
Campbell, however, did speak up on Nov. 4. She voiced strong disapproval of the letter of reprimand but wouldn’t not go into specifics of the letter.
“I think this is absolutely reprehensible of you to be harassing Jane Ann like this,” Campbell said during her brief sound off that can be read in its entirety here.
Yesterday, Campbell brought up the subject again at December’s monthly meeting.
Campbell said that an attorney, who is familiar with personnel privacy issues, said the chair – in this case Luke Eggers – acts out the will of the board.
“He does not have some super power that enables him unilaterally to put a letter of reprimand in the file of any Board of Elections employee. Thus it would appear that this letter is NOT a letter of reprimand, since it was given to Ms. Hodges as an illegal action and was not brought to a public meeting nor a closed meeting, to allow the other members of the Board of Elections to consult and vote on this matter,” Campbell said, reading from a statement.
Reading from a prepared statement, Campbell also said that this attorney doesn’t believe there is any legal basis for demanding an employee’s personal phone records.
Hodges again declined to release the letter given to her more than a month ago. Last month, Hodges said that she had contacted a personal attorney on the matter but declined to speak any further.
County Attorney Four Eggers, who happens to be the brother of Luke Eggers and a former member of the Watauga County BOE for eight years, was reached on Thursday afternoon. While he said he wasn’t at liberty to talk to the media, he did refer High Country Press to N.C. General Statute 153A-98 titled “Privacy of employee personnel records” and, in particular, a few of its subsections:
(a) Notwithstanding the provisions of G.S. 132-6 or any other general law or local act concerning access to public records, personnel files of employees, former employees, or applicants for employment maintained by a county are subject to inspection and may be disclosed only as provided by this section. For purposes of this section, an employee’s personnel file consists of any information in any form gathered by the county with respect to that employee and, by way of illustration but not limitation, relating to his application, selection or nonselection, performance, promotions, demotions, transfers, suspension and other disciplinary actions, evaluation forms, leave, salary, and termination of employment. As used in this section, “employee” includes former employees of the county.
(e) A public official or employee who knowingly, willfully, and with malice permits any person to have access to information contained in a personnel file, except as is permitted by this section, is guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor and upon conviction shall only be fined an amount not more than five hundred dollars ($500.00).
(f) Any person, not specifically authorized by this section to have access to a personnel file designated as confidential, who shall knowingly and willfully examine in its official filing place, remove or copy any portion of a confidential personnel file shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor and upon conviction shall only be fined in the discretion of the court but not in excess of five hundred dollars ($500.00).
Yesterday, Chair Eggers and Aceto approved the Nov. 4 minutes with no mention of the letter of reprimand. Campbell voted no.
After the meeting, Aceto called the matter a “moot point” at this time.
See Campbell’s entire letter below.