Gila County’s recorder is facing tough criticism from both a failed challenger and county supervisors.
Although he lost the primary, former recorder candidate James “Mac” Feezor is still fighting.
Feezor says he plans to file a formal complaint on what he calls “numerous incidents of misconduct on the part of the elections personnel, specifically in the recorder’s office.”
Supervisor Shirley Dawson said she is also unhappy with the recorder, specifically her handling of voter registration on the San Carlos and White River Apache Reservations and her decision to shorten polling place hours.
Dawson said she believes Sadie Jo Tomerlin, a Republican, did not want to collect those votes because they come primarily from Democratic voters.
“There is a question, a very strong question, of whether there is an effort to suppress the Native American vote,” Dawson said. “I see that San Carlos is an area where a Republican in office does not want Democrats voting and I will keep working hard to make sure the people of the San Carlos and White Mountain Apache Tribes know what has taken place and that they are members of the United States and have a right to vote.”
Dawson said she expected to see an investigation of voter suppression by the justice department.
“The fact is, in my belief, integrity and security is lacking in the county recorder’s office,” she said
Last week, Feezor stood before the Gila County Board of Supervisors and said Tomerlin abused her position and power on numerous occasions during the primary election.
“The abuse of power by the incumbent was early in onset and pervasive in nature throughout the election cycle,” he said.
The Roundup contacted Tomerlin for comment. Although she initially agreed to answer e-mailed questions, she never responded.
Specifically, Feezor alleges that Tomerlin and county employees engaged in political activity while working and displayed “Vote for Sadie” stickers on their vehicles on county property and within the 75-foot campaigning limit of polls.
Feezor says almost immediately after he filed his petitions to run, the discrepancies began. On May 30, Tomerlin’s officer manager, Judy Smrdel, filed a request for Feezor’s petitions with the election’s department on Tomerlin’s behalf. Smrdel wrote “campaign” as the reason for the request.
“This is using county resources, in this case, the time and services of a county employee for personal gain,” Feezor said.
According to the county’s Merit System Rules and Policies handbook, county employees are prevented from using their position, work time or public monies to engage in political activity.
Then, Feezor says Tomerlin, while acting as an election’s official, parked her vehicle inside a 75-foot no campaigning area while displaying campaign signs on her truck’s side and tailgate.
Again, Feezor says this violates the county’s handbook, which specially limits displaying campaign signs on any county property or near an early voting site.
Feezor says he has also seen recorder’s staff park vehicles, with campaign signs, in front of the recorder’s office.
Feezor said he was appalled by this blatant disregard for county and state statutes.
“She no longer seems to feel that she is bound by any laws or rules and has passed this attitude on to her employees,” he wrote.
Besides these violations, Feezor says county employees violated county policy by using office computers to write on his campaign Facebook account while reportedly working.
Ignoring the board
Feezor says Tomerlin not only violated election protocol, she refused to follow the board of supervisor requests or answer their questions.
In March, the county board of supervisors requested both the elections department and recorder’s office provide a written summary of their plans to ensure election integrity and security.
While the election’s department complied and submitted a draft, which the board ultimately adopted, Tomerlin never complied.
At a March 27 county meeting, Tomerlin told the board she needed to add a few more pages to the draft.
At a June 5 meeting, Linda Eastlick, election’s director, said Tomerlin had told her she would write her office’s policy and did not want to be included in the election department’s policy.
Don McDaniel, county manager, said Tomerlin never submitted an election security policy.
Tomerlin also never answered questions McDaniel directed to her from the board in August.
On Aug. 21, the county supervisor’s asked McDaniel to question Tomerlin about several voting issues they had fielded from citizens.
Those questions included:
• Why were voter registration cards were printed with errors?
• Why did some residents received ballots with incorrect information?
• Why were voter registration cards are done by hand?
• Why did staff in the recorder’s office tell citizens the office’s funding and manpower had been cut?
• Why was early voting cut on the Indian reservations?
Tomerlin responded by sending McDaniel an e-mail.
“Most of the issues that are stated are incorrect,” she wrote. “It is sad that it is an election year and certain elected officials are using their titles to stir up false information because they do not understand the election process (voter registration, early voting, early voting sites, precincts, etc).”
Tomerlin said she would get with McDaniel later to discuss the board’s concerns.
McDaniel said this never happened and he had “no further conversations with the recorder or the board on this matter.”
While Tomerlin didn’t answer the board directly, one of her staffers did.
Judy Smrdel sent the supervisors an e-mail on Aug. 22 defending Tomerlin.
Smrdel wrote that any errors on the ballots would be the election department’s concern because the recorder’s office does not design or print ballots.
Furthermore, inaccurate information on voter registration cards often occurs because people do not provide accurate information or fail to update their addresses.
Concerning issues of early voting on the reservations, Smrdel said those that could not make the four-hour window to vote at the polls, could have easily voted by mail instead.
“The San Carlos voters who wanted to vote before work? What time would you suggest we open? 6:00 a.m.? How long should we stay open? 8 p.m.?” she wrote.
“Personally I feel that we all depend far too much on the ‘easy button’ – and the easier we try to make things, the harder and more complicated they seem to be getting. I would like to see a return to voting at the polls, where you show your ID and sign the register.”
Smrdel accuses Supervisors Tommie Martin and Shirley Dawson of raising these complaints to discredit Tomerlin so Feezor or Mickie Nye would win the recorder’s election.
Smrdel says supervisor meddling is lowering moral and inducing paranoia and fear among county staff.
“Rather than meddle where it’s not required and spend so much time on character assassination, I’d feel a lot better if the board would tackle some of the REAL issues and the REAL problems we are all facing, and maybe the morale around here would improve.”
Feezor said responses like this show that employees in the recorder’s office have disdain for both the supervisors and county policies.
Dawson said she would work hard to make sure the San Carlos and White River Native Americans have a say in the general election
“Last March, I stated that if necessary to protect the election this year, I would step down from my office and I may well be doing that because I do believe that all people should feel that they have a right to register to vote.”