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Commissioners hear electioneering concerns

The Harrison County Board of Commissioners Monday morning were presented a letter from Circuit Court Clerk Sherry Brown written by election board chairman Larry Shickles regarding a complaint filed concerning the storing, displaying and distribution of political yard signs in the office of Auditor Pat Wolfe.
The board was presented with a photograph of a yard sign for Chief Deputy Heather Metcalf, who is running for auditor, placed on its side in the auditor’s office.
‘It wasn’t really displayed; it was just upside down,’ Commissioner Carl (Buck) Mathes said.
The complaint was made that these signs were being stored and distributed from the office.
‘My employees get 30 minutes for lunch,’ Wolfe, in an interview yesterday, said. ‘What they did in that time is their business.’
Obviously, Wolfe said, when the courthouse becomes an official polling place (which it did starting Monday), her employees would not and do not have any election paraphernalia in her office.
The letter also stated that the ‘complaint was further expanded that allowing county offices to be used for the storage and distribution of campaign materials creates an environment that may cause an employee of the county to, even inadvertently, engage in the process of conducting political campaigning while working.’
The election board was requested to conduct an investigation to determine if the signs had been distributed by county employees during work hours. The election board, by unanimous vote, decided to issue a letter requesting commissioner assistance.
‘The county election board believes allowing the storing, displaying and distribution of yard signs or other political material would best be suited at other places than in the offices where county employees are working,’ the letter said.
It went on to say that if the commissioners eliminated activity such as the storage, display or distribution of campaign materials in the offices of county employees, that would assist in removing issues and questionable activity that may continue to come before the election board.
‘During my time here, I’ve seen (Frank) O’Bannon, (Baron) Hill and (Mike) Sodrel give speeches in the courthouse,’ Commissioner James Goldman said. ‘Would we limit them, as well?’
Brown said that if the paraphernalia was passed out on county time, which Wolfe said it never was, then it could be a case of ‘ghost employment.’
According to Indiana Code, ghost employment is defined as a public servant who knowingly or intentionally assigns to an employee under his/her supervision any duties not related to the operation of the governmental entity that he/she serves.
Commissioner Terry Miller asked about county offices that ’empty out’ to go listen to campaign speeches on the first floor.
‘That would be the same thing,’ Brown said.
The board asked legal counsel John E. Colin to research state law on the matter.
Brown also requested permission from the commissioners to place signs on the second floor that say the courthouse is a polling place and no electioneering is allowed.
‘If you put a sign up that relates to the law, I don’t see any problem,’ Goldman said. ‘I think that’s the law and you don’t have to get our approval.’
The election board will meet today (Wednesday) at 11 a.m. at the courthouse in Corydon. A public testing of voting machines will follow at 1 p.m.
In other business Monday morning, the board heard requests of nearly $1 million worth of additionals.
Wolfe and county assessor Lorena Stepro requested about $454,000 to replace the Manatron Inc. system used to track property assessments and tax information. Both said Manatron is difficult to work with, and David Neal, county consultant from Cybertech, recommended the Low Tax System, which will cost $302,000.
Another company, XSoft Inc., offered to upgrade the assessor’s office system for $153,000.
Both systems have maintenance fees of $36,000 and $25,000, respectively.
Parks director Claudia Howard presented a request for $450,000 for paving and campground improvements at Buffalo Trace Park east of Palmyra.
Also, Mark Sutton, a member of the South Harrison Park Advisory Board, asked the commissioners to consider purchasing 60 acres of land north of the park, just south of S.R. 11, to build a lake and other activity projects. The property is being sold by the Lemmon family trust for $235,000.