Councilwoman: Davidson Co. Election administrator should resign - WSMV News 4

Councilwoman: Davidson Co. Election administrator should resign

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(WSMV file photo) (WSMV file photo)

A Metro Councilwoman said Jeff Roberts should resign from his position as Davidson County Election Administrator.

“I think he’s a wonderful person,” said Councilwoman Karen Johnson. “But I just think this particular job is the wrong fit.”

The News 4 I-Team was the first to uncover staff complaints filed against Election Administrator Jeff Roberts, including an allegation that he compared an African-American employee to a monkey depicted on a coffee mug.

The I-Team obtained a second formal complaint filed against Roberts and the HR and finance director over a personnel change involving another African-American employee.

Councilwoman Karen Johnson performed an assessment of the election commission on July 14, at the request of Metro Council’s Minority Caucus.

The review consisted of four hours of interviews with Roberts and five staff members.

Johnson said she was selected to conduct the interviews because she worked as a human resources director for 23 years.

“At the Minority Caucus meeting the caucus charged me with gathering information concerning the most recent media report issues at the Election Commission,” Johnson wrote in an email.

Her findings were released to other council members this week.

In the report, Johnson noted a “failure to communicate key information to employees,” as well as a “lack of trust…which has led to low morale.”

“If this department spirals into dysfunction as a result of poor management/leadership, it can threaten the trust and confidence the public has in our Election Commission and the integrity of the services that this department provides,” Johnson wrote in the assessment report obtained by the I-Team.

The I-Team asked Roberts about the alleged monkey comment in January.

“I don’t remember saying what the employee thought was said,” Roberts said.

The I-Team also found Roberts emailed staffers an article about monkeys raiding a polling place in Thailand.

In her assessment, Johnson wrote Roberts “exercises a lack of appropriate judgment in communicating with staff/employees.”

“You’re in a situation where people are not thinking before they speak so definitely needs improvement in that area,” Johnson said.

Johnson also has questions about Robert’s professional motivations.

When Johnson asked why Roberts took the administrator position last year, Roberts first made a reference to helping a friend, according to a transcript of the interview.

He then added, “It looked like a good job for me. Besides who would turn down two pensions—I get one from the state and I am now working on getting a city pension.”

“Having someone with the motivation to get a pension I think sends the wrong signal or signs to the employees,” Johnson said.

In the transcript, Roberts said he must work seven more years before he can collect his city pension.

Roberts appeared receptive to Johnson’s comments.

“I appreciate your comments. My goal for this meeting is to learn,” Roberts said.

Only the election commission has the power to make decisions about Robert’s employment.

For that reason, Johnson suggested Roberts take sensitivity, communication and leadership classes.

Other recommendations included establishing a 90-day performance review that would be televised to the general public.

Read Johnson’s entire list of recommendations here.

Roberts released a statement on Thursday:  

The majority of my working career has been in public service.  The position I accepted as Administrator of Elections for Metro seemed like a great place to finish a career in public service.  While a retirement benefit from Metro would be a capstone to a long career in public service, it is dependent on meeting a formula based on age and years of service.

I recently joined other Metro directors in a cultural diversity and inclusion course sponsored by the Mayor's Office.  Metro HR places a great deal of emphasis on continuing education for employees.  I anticipate participating in more training opportunities during my service as Administrator of Elections.

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