JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – Another battle is brewing over who will deliver the Hinds County election machines in November.
This time members of the Hinds County Board of Elections are at odds with the county administrator, who says he wants to move the delivery service in-house.
County Administrator Kenny Wayne Jones addressed the commissioners at their meeting on Thursday. He said the decision was made to help cut costs and pointed to the fact that the commission was $50,000 over budget for the year.
“We started bringing in a lot of entities and their operations that we probably had to pay for, due to budget constraints,” he said.
The commissioners, however, questioned whether Jones had the authority to take over the service without consulting the oversight board. They also asked if county workers had the training they needed to do the job.
In total, the machines are to be delivered to 108 constituencies each election day. Machines need to be calibrated before the election and sometimes need to be recalibrated after being delivered.
The commission typically relies on Kenny Williams, owner of Professionals on Wheels, to make deliveries, in part because he also calibrates the machines for their manufacturer.
Members say they will speak to the board on Monday to seek clarification on the matter.
“We were told today at the meeting that it was not a decision that the supervisory board would make, only [that] the county administrator had the authority and approval to do so,” District 3 Commissioner Jermal Clark said. “So we just want some clarification.”
“We also want to know if it’s just for the election or if it’s for every other division in Hinds County,” said District 5 Commissioner Shirley Varnado, chair of the commission.
Regarding the budget deficit, Clark said the commission’s budget was cut this year and the county did not schedule a runoff election. He said election officials were seeking a budget increase for the 2023 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Jones told WLBT in June that the county would pick up the deliveries after the company contracted to deliver machinery for the June 28 Republican Party runoffs had to come to an abrupt halt because the county failed to deliver. get two bids for the work.
“Any time I don’t have the proper paperwork, I’ll shut down whatever I need until Hinds County puts in the proper supply,” Jones said at the time. “It’s with the Elections Commission or whoever deals with Hinds County.”
The procurement law requires the county to receive at least two bids for certain projects before a contractor can be hired.
Jones said Professionals on Wheels was allowed to return to work after securing a second offer.
“We won’t have to deal with that anymore because the function of getting the machines out (to) the precinct will be under Hinds County jurisdiction,” he said. “We will ask our employees to take them where they are going. This way we won’t have to worry about having a purchase order”
Controversy also surrounded the delivery of voting materials last November, after commissioners questioned why the county hired a new company to deliver materials instead of Professionals on Wheels, the more experienced supplier.
District 1 Commissioner Kidada Brown said she was suspicious of the administrator’s plans, saying she didn’t want a repeat of what happened last year.
(One machine was damaged, another had a broken seal, and others were delivered to the wrong location, prompting the county to rehire Professionals on Wheels.)
“We just want to make sure everything is done right, properly and in a timely manner, so he doesn’t come back and say he looks like us,” she said.
“That’s why we’re starting now,” Jones said. “So we have the list, we have the active list (of constituencies) and we have already started going to the places to familiarize ourselves with them.
“We have to sit down with all of you, at some point, to get your opinion on the little things we need to be careful about, what we need to do…” he said.
“Wait a minute, has this been voted on and approved by the board of supervisors?” Varnado asked.
“This is a Hinds County administrative issue. They don’t have to vote on it, because we’re not spending money,” Jones said. “If we were to spend money with that, they should vote on that.”
“Does that mean this policy will be in place for all other Hinds County divisions? Varnado followed.
“There’s a lot of stuff in Hinds County that we bring in-house, not just that,” he said. “Due to budget constraints, budget concerns, we bring a whole bunch of stuff that we can do inside…”
Varnado asked for examples, and Jones responded by saying some employees were trained to take on other duties, such as building maintenance.
“Removing carpeting, plumbing, all of that … all of that is brought inside instead of going out and paying contractors money to do it,” he said.
Varnado also asked if the circuit clerk had been informed of the changes.
“I’ve already told the clerks and what we were going to do, and that’s up to the county, so everyone’s pretty much on board and knows what we’re doing because it’s going to save us a lot of money,” said Jones. “We just need your input to make sure everything gets done without a lot of hiccups.”
Circuit clerk Zach Wallace said he had not been contacted by the administrator’s office and said any decisions about voting machines would have to be approved by the board of supervisors. He could not comment further, saying he was still gathering details after Thursday’s meeting.
For his part, District 2 Supervisor David Archie called and invited the commissioners to come and speak to the Board of Supervisors on Monday to bring the matter to them.
“He just doesn’t have the power to do what he said,” Archie said. “That’s definitely not true.”
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