Almost eight months after four of the public officials re-located to the new county administrative building on South Congress Boulevard in an effort to free up space at the courthouse, the election commission remains in cramped quarters.
Last Monday night, Election Commission Chairman Walteen Parker, Secretary Harry Lasser, and Administrator Dennis Stanley addressed the county commission requesting more storage and operational space.
The election commission operates out of two small offices on the first floor of the courthouse. Supplies and materials are kept stored in closets, hallway filing cabinets, under tables, and other nooks and crannies on the first floor.
"We were hoping we would be allowed to have more square footage and more room with the transition to the complex but it never materialized," said Chairman Parker. "Space is needed to accommodate voters, candidates, and citizens who come to our office to conduct business. That is business which is confidential or needs to be a private discussion. Much to our chagrin though we often have to discuss private information, inquiries, and matters openly and we always lack the accommodations and conveniences that our handicapped and elderly citizens and voters deserve just to complete forms. We just don't have the space. Election night is always a cramped and crowded situation. We have six to eight people in a room trying to do our job. Its just extremely overcrowded. We make this request, for more operational space," she said.
Lasser, one of two Democrats on the commission, also appealed to the County Mayor and County Commission for help. "We hold commission meetings in the back corner space (of an office). There are seven people packed in there with desks and filing cabinets. I get to sit between the door and the filing cabinets. It is not an exaggeration that Mr. (Kenneth) Moore and I have to take turns crossing our legs, otherwise we'd be playing footsie. I got to see my first countywide election on March 6 and it was chaotic. Every chair was occupied by a commissioner or by someone who was coming to vote. The election workers were in and out with folks who had questions. The phones were ringing constantly. Voters wandered in there wondering where they were supposed to vote. Chaos is the most appropriate word I can think of to describe what election day was like. When you walk into those offices, there are voter registration cards setting on desks. Those voter registration cards have names, addresses, birth dates, and social security numbers. A person could very easily walk into that office and grab a handful of voter registration cards. We're the only office that I'm aware that doesn't have some form of counter or barrier to keep visitors from sensitive information," he said.
County Mayor Foster said more storage space could be made available at the new county complex. "I think we all agree with your problem," said Foster. I think we have talked about doing some space. I went with Dennis out to the new building about storing all the things you need to store out there as soon as we can get two or three things done here. We've not even moved out of where I was into our office. We're still in that process. I told Dennis we could start moving anything he wants to move out there in the way of storage. We also told Dennis that you can use the conference room upstairs (for election commission meetings) which is a much better place for you to meet. That should create a lot more room for you and be a bigger help," said Foster.
Stanley said there is also a need for more space to conduct daily operations. "There are two issues here. One is a storage issue and the other is an operational issue. Really they are separate. On the storage issue, Mike (Foster) and I have talked and we have resolved most of that. I am not sure we need to move those (election) machines over there (new complex) and we'll talk about that. But a lot of the other stuff we can move over there and it'll be done. It'll be out of the way," said Stanley.
"On the operational issue, we need at least one more office so we can open up the other two (offices) and make some counter space for people to register to vote and have some privacy. At least a bar separating those people from our actual work. We've got stuff in the hall. We've got stuff in closets We've got stuff everywhere. It really needs to be organized," he said.
"If we have more operational space, it will in the end give us more storage space as well," said Stanley. "The only issue as far as storage inside the courthouse is simply voting machines and the printers. We really need some help. We've got a city election in June. Its not very large. But we've got a county wide election in August and November and if those two are any worse than what we had in March as far as activity in our office, its going to be a nightmare," said Stanley.
"Privacy was a major issue (in the March primary). One office was full of election commissioners or an inspector. I was in the other office where the machine technicians were. I had a phone call from the state coordinator's office that really needed to be private. There's no privacy at all. It is a major problem. Its rather embarrassing to me for someone to walk in and say I want to register to vote and I have to move a chair or have them move a chair and then I have to move stuff off of a desk so they can sit down and fill out a form. There is no counter there at all. Anything you can do to help us, we would certainly appreciate it and the sooner the better," said Stanley.
Other than County Mayor Foster, no county commissioner had anything to say about the problem and they moved on to other business.
While it was not mentioned publically Monday night, some election commissioners are reportedly upset that the county commission or mayor never asked them if they needed more space when the plans were being made about who was moving (to the new complex) and how office space was going to be designated. It has also been pointed out that almost every office that was moved from the courthouse has been replaced with an entity or organization that was not in the courthouse originally.
Last October, the county commission authorized the assignment of that courthouse space to others. Since then the Tennessee Highway Patrol, who had an office in the old Veteran's Building, moved into the courthouse where the Trustee's office had been. The Chamber of Commerce, in an effort to save expense, relocated from its office on the public square to the courthouse where the Register of Deeds had been. County Mayor Foster has moved his office across the hall to where the County Clerk office had been. Others are using some of the available courthouse space as well.
During that meeting in October, seventh district member Jimmy Poss came to the aid of the election commission strongly advising that the county take care of all those in the courthouse needing space before assigning all of the available courthouse space to others. Poss said the election commission is in dire need of extra space."I think we should take care of the ones in the courthouse first before we start giving rooms out," said Poss.