Kentucky State Board of Elections Dismisses Executive Director and Deputy [UPDATED]

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In a surprise move yesterday, the Kentucky State Board of Elections dismissed its executive director and deputy director without providing an explanation for the dismissals. The Glasgow Daily Times has more:

In a split but bi-partisan vote Tuesday and without providing reason on cause, the state Board of Elections dismissed its executive director, Maryellen Allen, and assistant director, Matthew Selph.

Democrats Ben Chandler and George Russell and Republican Stephen Hoffman voted for the motion, while Democrat Don Blevins and Republican Michael Adams voted no. Joshua Branscum, a Republican, was not present.

Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who chairs the board, did not vote, saying there was “no need” because the vote was not tied. But Grimes seconded Russell’s motion to terminate Allen and Selph.

The vote came after the board met in closed session for an hour and 20 minutes. When it reconvened in open session, Grimes made the following statement:

“We want to thank very much Maryellen Allen for services as Executive Director and her time here in state government and our Assistant Director Matt Selph for his efforts on behalf of the commonwealth of Kentucky.”

She then called for a motion which Russell offered. After no one seconded the motion, Grimes did.

Allen has worked for the board since 2011, first as General Counsel and later as Executive Director. Selph joined the Board of Elections in December 2014.

Allen, a registered Democrat, and Selph, a registered Republican, said they were given no reasons for their termination. Nor would Grimes offer a reason afterward.

“This was a bi-partisan decision of the state Board of Elections, that both non-merit employees’ services were no longer needed and one is Democrat, the other Republican — a leadership change,” Grimes said.

She would not say if they were dismissed for cause, nor would she say if the dismissals might be tied to any sort of workplace harassment or questions about electronic voter registration or tracking.

“I’m a little bit flabbergasted it happened to both of us,” Selph said later.

Selph did indicate that he had raised some issues regarding the board’s operations and as a result had expected some kind of action eventually:

Selph said he raised questions last spring about some board policies and operations and “since sometime around May, I have assumed my employment here was probably month to month.”

He said he sought and was granted whistleblower status in June from the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

Selph didn’t say what questions he raised but promised to share those by later releasing a memo he previously wrote laying out his concerns.

Neither Allen nor Selph were permitted to address the Board before the vote:

Neither Selph nor Allen was invited into the closed session which Grimes announced was to discuss possible litigation and personnel. They waited with the rest of the public in the capitol hallways outside the meeting room, joined by several co-workers who attended the meeting.

Selph said he was disappointed he had no opportunity to defend himself before the board’s vote.

“Apparently you don’t get a chance to defend yourself,” Selph said. “I would have liked to see what the facts or allegations might be.”

He said Allen’s termination was tied to his own and called her “one of the best bosses I’ve ever had.”

The board named a nominating committee to search for Allen’s and Selph’s successors: Russell, Huffman and Secretary of State employee Mary Sue Helm. Until replacements are named, Helm will serve as liaison between the board and staff.

Obviously, there is more to the story here – and hopefully, the Board will share its reasoning and justification for removing its top two state election officials. Until then, we will await further information – including Selph’s memo – along with word about who will fill those jobs. I suspect that vacancy will not seem attractive, however, until there is more clarity on what exactly happened in Frankfort.

[UPDATE: Late Wednesday, reports emerged that Selph’s memo alleges “Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes improperly gathered voter information from the state’s voter registration system during campaigns” and raises questions about a contract with an outside company for cyberprotection services. Needless to say, this is a story to watch.]

Stay tuned …

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