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Elections workers complain of stress, anxiety

Published Oct. 12, 2005

Two employees in the office of Supervisor of Elections Ann Mau say they have become ill because of stress they attribute to mismanagement of the office.

"That job is my livelihood, that's it. My health is my life, and I can't go on any longer," said Roberta Olesky, voting equipment coordinator with the office.

Olesky was taken by ambulance from the office Monday to the emergency room of Brooksville Regional Hospital, complaining of heart-attacklike symptoms.

Once she was there, doctors determined that her real problem was stress, she said.

"I feel that I was having a stress and anxiety attack," she said.

Margie Schumacher, another employee, left the office Wednesday afternoon, said her husband, Ray Schumacher, a captain with the Brooksville Police Department.

"She sat here in my office and basically came to pieces yesterday," her husband said Thursday. "This is really starting to impact our lives."

The immediate cause for the stress was the Oct. 1 runoff election and its controversial aftermath. Because of a computer error, election results were not completed until 11 p.m., long after most other counties in the state. Monday, the losing Republican candidate for supervisor of elections, Henry Ledbetter, called for a recount based on the computer failure. The Hernando County Canvassing Board ruled Thursday that his request was unmerited.

But Ray Schumacher and Olesky said that the problems with the elections are only the most recent and pressing. Both also cited a continual change in the duties expected of workers and a general disorganization.

"I can't go into a laundry list of things, but over the past few months there's been just so much confusion in that office. There are questions about procedure, questions about scheduling and these questions seem to be handled on an hour-to-hour basis, which leads to a very bogus work situation," Ray Schumacher said.

Mau refused to criticize her staff. Instead she said that the time before an election is always stressful. And the amount of work sometimes requires the shuffling of her staff.

"At the pace we go this time of year, I'm surprised it's not all of us (that are affected by the pressure)," she said.

"Priorities change and sometimes with an election approaching they change with very short notice. We have to move from one thing to another to get everything done," she said.

Juggling duties was also the issue the day after the election. In a news conference to explain the late returns, Mau said Schumacher had incorrectly entered data into the computer.

Schumacher took the rare step of directing some of the criticism back at her boss. She said that because she was pulled away to do other work, she did not have a chance to adequately check the data entry.

Afterward, Mau relieved Schumacher of her computer duties, but said that the step was not a demotion.

"She publicly stated that she had a problem and I did not want to further increase her fragile emotional condition," Mau said.

Olesky acknowledged that she is a supporter of Mau's opponent in the Nov. 3 general election, Beth Shields, but said that is not the reason she chose to speak out against Mau.

"I'm committed to my job, and I believe I work for the taxpayers of this county, regardless of who signs my paycheck," she said.

Mau said she did not want to comment on whether her problems with the employees might be politically motivated.

Ray Schumacher in August filed a complaint against the supervisor's office with the State Attorney's Office, stating that Mau had forced employees to change their time cards. After investigating the complaint, the office determined that it did not merit charges.