By Jesse Wood
Feb. 18, 2014. In its first meeting since the bi-partisan mediation sessions with two members on the State Board of Elections held in recent weeks, the Watauga County Board of Elections trio played nice with each other on Monday evening and listened to the public for 15 minutes at the end of the meeting.
Chair Luke Eggers and Secretary Bill Aceto, the Republican members on the board, offered little resistance on some matters that, in the past, they had been steadfast against in their roughly six-month tenure on the board.
Kathleen Campbell, the lone Democrat on the board, mentioned at the start of the meeting that one of the things that she learned from the mediation was that the chair of the board isn’t the only one allowed to add line items to the agenda.
So Campbell proposed adding “new business” to future agendas and amend Monday’s meeting agenda,” so board members could include topics that come up at the last minute.
The board unanimously approved a motion on the “new business” arrangement.
With that resolved, Campbell later motioned to add to discussion a proposal to change the public comment policy. In August, which happened to be the first meeting with Aceto, Eggers and Campbell on the board together, Aceto and Eggers – as the majority – approved a resolution that stated only written public comments would be allowed.
Although the previous board didn’t have a public comment policy or a public comment period, this outraged Campbell at that August meeting as she said after the vote that a judge should “have an injunction and throw the two of you off this board.” Eggers then said to those in the audience that August morning who were jeering and booing that they were out of order and mentioned that 30 days in jail could be a possible remedy for outbursts.
But on Monday, the atmosphere was nothing like the mood of that August meeting or subsequent meetings that were also heated.
Eggers mentioned that he favored the written public comment process that currently exists, saying that he’s received “a lot” of emails and letters from constituents.
“I am pretty sure I know what everybody’s opinion is, and I also feel like this is a good policy,” Eggers said. “The previous board had no resolution [on public comment].”
While Campbell said that it is “better” to have something in writing such as the resolution Aceto and Eggers passed in August, she still felt changes were needed to allow for more spontaneous comment from the public.
Eggers and Aceto both expressed openness to allowing a public comment period at the end of each meeting.
“Public comment is very important,” Aceto said, adding that he would rather restrict the comment to “new information and not old information” already discussed at length and voted on by the board.
Campbell responded quickly, “ You shouldn’t control what people say.”
Campbell also said that she wanted to ensure that a public hearing be held and advertised before any precincts are established, relocated or combined.
Eggers then made a motion to table this public comment discussion for the next meeting, so each board member could come prepared with suggestions on how to amend the policy. Eggers and Aceto also agreed – after a request from Campbell – to set aside 15 minutes at the end of Monday’s meeting to hear from any of the roughly 50 individuals in attendance wanting to speak before the board.
As for business that was on the agenda, the Watauga County Board of Elections approved 397 new voter registrations from Dec. 4 to Feb. 17 – pending review. The board reviewed the election calendar for information only – not action.
Early-voting Proposals, Drop-in Session
Also, the board scheduled a citizen workshop to discuss potential one-stop locations for the 2014 elections for Monday, Feb. 24, in the commissioners’ boardroom in the Watauga County Administrative Building next to the courthouse from 5 to 7 p.m.
Eggers said he “envisioned” the workshop as a two-hour drop-in session for folks to come in after work and look at proposed one-stop sites on a map and approach the board members to pitch their own proposals or comment on other sites.
While Eggers and Aceto didn’t divulge any proposals of their own for one-stop locations on Monday, Campbell presented some possibilities that “could serve everybody if we choose to do that.”
Her loose proposal listed seven one-stop sites, but she said it could feature any number of sites such as three or five or six.
- Meat Camp Fire Department for North Fork, Meat Camp and Bald Mountain precincts: 2,574 active registrations as of Feb. 6, 2014; 7 percent of voting population
- Cove Creek Fire Department for Cove Creek, Beaver Dam, Laurel Creek and Brushy Fork (split) precincts: 5,562 registrations at 15 percent
- Foscoe Fire Department for Watauga, Shawneehaw and Beech Mountain precincts: 3,486 registrations at 10 percent
- Watauga County Courthouse, Linville Falls Room at ASU, and Town Hall in Boone for eight Boone precincts Boone 1, 2 and 3; New River 1, 2 and 3; Blowing Rock; Blue Ridge; and Brushy Fork (split): 22,268 at 62 percent
- Deep Gap Fire Department for Stoney Fork and Elk precincts: 2,088 at 6 percent
“We can make people in Boone happy and people out in the county happy. That was my goal to make everybody happy. I hope you will consider this,” Campbell said to her fellow board members.
When asked during the 15-minute informal public comment session at end of the meeting to discuss some of their (Aceto and Eggers’) ideas for one-stop locations, Aceto mentioned that he would reserve comment until after the public workshop next Monday. Eggers didn’t respond.
About ten people spoke during the informal public comment session at the end of Monday’s meeting. Individuals said they appreciated the cordial tone and openness that members on the board displayed and stressed the importance of public comment – not just for those sitting on the board to hear but for other citizens to hear as well.
Democrat operatives Ian O’Keefe, Pam Williamson and Jesse Presnell mentioned that those who live and work on campus of ASU deserve to have the convenience of two one-stop locations on the college campus. They suggested utilizing the Linville Falls Room in the Plemmons Student Union, which was proposed last year and recommended by officials at ASU, to compliment the current Legends location.
“Not having another place at the ASU campus to vote is a partisan move to disenfranchise voters. That’s the way I see it,” Williamson said, after also thanking the board for working together during the meeting.
Glenda Hubbard said, “Since I live in Boone, can I vote in Boone this time?”
She lives in New River 3 precinct, which was moved from the National Guard Armory to Mutton Crossing during that infamous Aug. 12 board meeting that spread on YouTube and made it on national TV.
At that meeting, Campbell said that while the Armory was near the edge of the New River 3 precinct it was central to the majority of the New River 3 population.
In any event, the Watauga County Board of Elections received a round of applause after entertaining comments before adjourning the meeting.