County Manager Scott Somers fired County Clerk Maeve Kennedy Grimes today after she was placed on paid administrative leave Oct. 20 following two errors on the general election ballot.
As a result of the errors the county was required to distribute supplemental ballots to county voters for a Clatsop Community College bond measure and a Cannon Beach City Council race.
An internal investigation by Somers found that the clerk’s office did not follow its established protocol for proofreading the draft ballots before the election.
“We did an investigation and it was evident and clear that the policy and procedures were not followed,” Somers said.
Somers presented the findings at a Clatsop County Board of Commissioners’ regular meeting Nov. 12. His findings described an issue with distractions and multitasking. The proofreaders worked individually rather than following the procedure of reading out loud while another proofreader reads along, Somers said at the time.
During his presentation last month, Somers said, the last procedure before ballots are printed is having the county clerk give a final proof of the ballots, which was completed. However, Somers placed Kennedy Grimes on administrative prior to the general election and appointed Valerie Crafard, clerk of the Board of Commissioners, as interim county clerk.
“The errors occurred because of procedures that were not followed,” Somer said. “My actions improved the credibility of the clerk and elections office. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
More than a dozen county employees and citizens attended the commissioners’ meeting Nov. 12 in support of Kennedy Grimes.
During public comment, Astoria resident Myrna Patrick urged Somers and the board to reinstate Kennedy Grimes.
Patrick questioned Somers’ decision, especially since other counties, Washington and Yamhill, also had ballot errors and did not discipline county staff.
“In his presentation, Mr. Somers talks about the staff being distracted and multitasking while they were doing their proofreading process. Part of that is because they are short staffed,” Patrick said. “By putting the department head on administrative leave, that makes the department less staffed.”
Somers said placing Kennedy Grimes on administrative leave immediately before the general election was necessary and ultimately did not cause a staff shortage.
Somers hired former county employee Karen Barnum as the interim deputy clerk to serve during the election.
“In most organizations, while an investigation is occurring, it is standard practice to remove the person and put them on paid administrative leave, to make sure the investigation is not tainted,” Somers said. “We were not short staffed because of that. The process moved forward very smoothly.”
At the last Board of Commissioners meeting Dec. 10, Astoria City Councilor Drew Herzig supported Somers’ decision. He made the correlation that if a school bus driver crashes, they should not be allowed to keep driving a school bus during an investigation.
Grimes served as Clatsop County clerk from 2011 to 2012, then returned to the position in June 2013.
Crafard will continue in the county clerk role while the county moves forward to fill the position on a permanent basis.