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Supervisor of Elections Earl Lennard talks of morale, confidence at open house

Earl Lennard didn't show up wearing a sparkly tiara.

He didn't whirl around in a big poofy white dress and satin pumps or have the crowd form a circle for his first dance.

Yet in a way, the open house staged Monday proved to be a coming out party for the new supervisor of elections.

Exactly one year from the next countywide primary election day, more than 100 people gathered for an open house at the Robert Gilder Elections Service Center in Brandon. The group, composed largely of poll workers and well-wishers, learned about "election myths," toured the improved warehouse and celebrated the official christening of the Phyllis Busansky Clerks' Academy.

The academy, which will upgrade clerk training to 10-12 hours, bears the name of the former supervisor of elections who died unexpectedly in June.

Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Lennard, the 67-year-old former Hillsborough County schools superintendent, to fulfill the term of Busansky, who sought to bring new order to the office after ousting problem-plagued incumbent Buddy Johnson in November.

To say the staff endured a lot over the last 12 months would be an understatement. Yet as Lennard addressed the group at the open house this week, a sense of optimism and enthusiasm permeated the room.

They chuckled as Lennard quipped, "I used to say count every vote, and count them only once. But I guess I can't joke around like that anymore."

As Lennard offered what amounted to a spirited pep talk, he took dead aim at further boosting election workers' rising morale.

"I want them to feel good about themselves," Lennard said. "My job is to give them all the resources necessary to do the job.

"I've tried to garner thoughts about the process from everyone," he added, revealing a piece of paper with some notes he had just written down. "I'm going to incorporate the good ideas and make them a reality. That's what I'm trying to do and that's what I'm trying to impress upon our directors and managers."

Re-establishing the group's confidence level has taken priority because Busansky and chief of staff Craig Latimer had already put in place many of the steps aimed at improving efficiency.

To acquire more poll workers, the office will create an adopt-a-precinct campaign that will allow nonprofit groups to handle poll worker duties. Instead of compensation going to each worker — poll workers receive a small stipend — a single check will be cut for a group such as Rotary or Kiwanis.

Poll workers also will have the advantage of electronic voter lists, eliminating the need for cumbersome alphabetized lists, and shortening lines. The electronic lists will integrate databases, making it easier for poll workers to answer questions.

In addition to the clerks' academy and adopt-a-precinct program, the office will install upward of 30 regional election problem solvers (REPS) who will troubleshoot specific regions in the county. Lennard said the idea is to solve problems at the precincts on election day instead of trying to find solutions from the service center or the downtown office.

To that end, Lennard drew cheers when he spoke of upgrading the service center's inadequate telephone bank. The office has only 50 telephones to respond to calls from 384 precincts.

More than anything, Lennard views the opportunity of extending Busansky's vision as a privilege. He recognizes the staff and poll workers as the true heroes of the office and wants to ensure they have the tools to succeed.

"We shall be ready to go," Lennard proclaimed to the group, "because we have only one day to get it right."

The tools Lennard so frequently mentions include comprehensive training, efficient voting machines and up-to-date registration information. They also include a brand of confidence that can only come from competent leadership.

That's all I'm saying.

Supervisor of Elections Earl Lennard talks of morale, confidence at open house 08/27/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 27, 2009 4:30am]
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