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Hernando County elections supervisor blasts commissioner for budget-cutting ideas

BROOKSVILLE — During recent budget hearings, as county commissioners pressed Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams to slice $43,000 from her budget, she challenged them to tell her how.

One suggestion, that she seek volunteers to work polling places, led to a letter from Secretary of State Kurt Browning warning the practice might be risky.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins last week sent her an e-mail listing suggestions he said would save $51,675, even more than the amount the board had requested.

Williams countered late Tuesday with a bristling e-mail response that dismisses each of Stabins' ideas while saying, "I never asked the board or you to assist me with my budget. … To think that I would ask for someone that has never worked in this or any other elections office for their assistance with my budget is absurd."

She also chides the commissioner, saying she hopes the information "assists you in grasping the basic concepts of how an elections office is operated and how elections are administered."

Williams goes on to say that she hopes all of Stabins' questions have been answered because "a significant amount of staff time has been spent" on the effort.

Calling her pointed response a spectacle, Stabins said Wednesday he was only trying to help.

"I think that I found the easiest cuts that I could do at this point," cuts that mirror what the county has had to do with its own expenses, Stabins said.

"Those are just a few ideas, some suggestions, but it's her budget," he said.

For example, Williams is taking a 2 percent pay cut to her $101,718 salary, but Stabins suggested she should make it 5 percent, which is what the 12 unpaid furlough days for her employees translates into in pay.

"You should be willing if you're going to ask your own foot soldiers to do it," he said, noting that the combined payroll savings of the furlough days and a 5 percent cut for the supervisor would amount to more than $27,000.

Williams said in her response that her staff was willing to take its cuts. She said Wednesday that her 2 percent cut was actually a larger pay cut dollar-wise than the furlough days her employees will take.

Stabins also urged the deletion of overtime from the budget, an $18,345 expense.

"None of your employees should be asked to work more than 40 hours in any given week," he wrote.

Williams countered that she "cannot open at 9 a.m. and promptly close at 5 p.m.," and that state law requires extra hours for elections and that she also must staff for early voting, training and other activities.

"To my surprise, it seems you have forgotten the times that you kept staff here past 5 p.m. to accommodate your campaign needs," Williams wrote, "election data you felt crucial to your election campaign for the office you now hold."

Stabins said Williams' argument doesn't hold water. "You can work 12 hours in a day and, when someone does that, you can give them the next morning off," he said.

Stabins also suggests that Williams cut her budget for legal, technical and mailing fees by $2,500 and her expenses related to supplies, stationary and subscriptions by another $3,650.

He noted that the county decided to eliminate paying dues to its state organization, the Florida Association of Counties, during these lean budget times, and he suggested that Williams could do the same with her state organization.

The cost of mailing for absentee ballots, the fees needed to technically support elections and the valuable information provided for state supervisors of elections organization were all cited by Williams as reasons she could not cut in those areas.

Stabins also told Williams that she could save even more by transferring part of one of her employee's salaries to a state grant and could save by renegotiating or rebidding the contract to maintain her hardware and software, a current expense of $100,000.

Williams replied that the grant could not be used for salary and that the software and hardware maintenance costs were necessary.

Another $100 could also be saved per poll worker if some people wanted to volunteer, Stabins wrote. Williams said in her e-mail that she found only a handful of people willing to volunteer.

She concludes by saying that Stabins should have discussed his concerns "by picking up the phone or coming into the office to speak with me," noting that she has an open-door policy.

As for reaching the budget amount given her by the commission, she said she wasn't there yet, but one option is to do what other departments do — "to go back to the board and ask" for more.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando County elections supervisor blasts commissioner for budget-cutting ideas 11/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 4, 2009 8:18pm]

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