An annual evaluation of Hall County’s elections director finds her work in 2020 was “not acceptable,” but the county’s elections board calls that same evaluation “harsh and inconsistent.”
The elections board is on the verge of taking legal action against the Hall County government, claiming the county may have wrongly taken control of oversight of the elections director in 2018. The elections director, the board says, should answer to the board, not the government.
At a March 1 meeting, the election board members — which include two Democrats, two Republicans and one nonpartisan chair position — expressed displeasure over the county administration’s recent performance evaluation of the Hall County Elections Director Lori Wurtz, calling it inconsistent with the county’s praise of the 2020 elections.
The Times through an open records request obtained the February 2021 evaluation of Wurtz’s performance in the year prior, in which supervisory staff stated that her overall work quality was “not acceptable.”
Wurtz was cited as having “poor organization in conducting election tasks, poor knowledge of election tasks and lack(ing) quality control regarding mail-in ballots,” by Zach Propes, assistant county administrator.
The evaluation also cited “multiple ballot issues during the 2020 cycle” but gave no examples nor further details on the claimed elections-related issues.
The county declined to comment on the situation, citing pending or potential litigation.
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Wurtz is in her third year as the elections director. She was hired after the Hall County Board of Commissioners made a “home-rule” amendment in 2018 to state legislation that created the elections director position years earlier. The change also placed oversight of the director in the hands of the county administrator.
In Wurtz’s 2019 evaluation, obtained by The Times through an open records request, Wurtz was graded positively and staff noted that she “met expectations” in every category.
Wurtz’s 2019 evaluation was conducted by Lisa Johnsa, the previous Assistant County Administrator.
Wurtz did not provide comments during the meeting or to the Times regarding the matter.
The duties of the director of elections, according to the ordinance, are to register voters, maintain accurate records and conduct a fair and impartial election.
In response to the 2020 evaluation that the elections board deemed “harsh and inconsistent,” the board approved a 10-item document addressing the county administration’s authority to change who the elections director reports to and commending Wurtz’s performance during the 2020 election despite an “underfunded and underbudgeted elections department.”
Additionally, the board members said they were not solicited for comment in Wurtz’s recent evaluation.
“I find it a big concern that we were not asked to provide input or comment into the elections director’s evaluation,” board chairman Tom Smiley said. “This evaluation is unreasonably harsh and is internally inconsistent.”
In the document, the elections board notes that Wurtz was working in “one of the most challenging election cycles,” citing the COVID-19 pandemic and Georgia’s transition to a swing state during the November election.
It also said the county is under-resourced when it comes to elections. According to the board, Hall County is the 10th largest county in Georgia, with roughly 132,000 registered voters but with only three full-time election workers.
“The Elections Director conducted Hall County elections on a budget that in some instances is appreciably lower than comparably sized jurisdictions,” a statement in the document reads. “In addition, Hall County Elections have less allocated resources, such as physical work, storage space and personnel than comparable Departments.”
Ultimately, Ken Jarrard, legal counsel for the elections board, told The Times that the elections board has reached out to county administrators regarding their grievances, however, they have not received a response.
“I will tell you this, the elections board is willing and open to having any conversations regarding this matter,” Jarrard said.
The dispute over to whom Wurtz, or any future Hall elections director, would report could be heading to a courtroom after election board members noted in February the county has not expressed interest in mediation efforts regarding the matters.
The board maintains that the 2018 local amendment, stating that the director of elections’ position “shall administratively supervise the day-to-day operations of the Elections office and report to the County Administrator,” may have been against the intent of the state legislation that created today’s elections board and elections director position.
Jarrard told The Times that the dispute and threat of litigation has resulted from “months of frustration.”
“What you see up on the (election board) podium is a culmination of frustration of wanting to provide input and wanting to be involved in the supervision and oversight of the election director’s position,” Jarrard said following the elections board March 1 meeting. “Now, this has led to conversations and concerns regarding the (2018 home rule amendment).”