County clerk Smith resigns
The unexpected resignation of Nevada County Clerk-Recorder Kathleen Smith could have resulted from some frustration about the job – also a concern of her predecessor – as well as personal reasons.
“It’s personal,” Smith said Tuesday outside the Board of Supervisors chambers, declining to elaborate. “It’s private, and I’m going to keep it that way.”
The county’s top elections official said she said was not ill or in any kind of trouble, and she said her Elections Office is performing well – despite past issues.
“Everything’s good,” Smith said.
As for the future, she added, “I’m exploring my options.” Later in the day, Smith said some good job opportunities in the marketplace existed for her.
She also reiterated the challenges of her job brought on by the large number of elections, the staffing required to handle them, and the need for more technology in the office. But she again stressed it was just a “personal decision.”
Others, however, said Smith had brought up some job-related frustrations to them.
Smith said the timing of her resignation for June 30 would clear the decks for her replacement, who would have time to prepare for the presidential primary election, moved up to February 2008, and the regular presidential election in November later that year.
Smith’s tenure has stirred controversy, including confusion caused in some elections over changes in polling places, dealing with handicapped voting mandates, and mistakes in pre-election voter information and absentee ballots.
Just before her June 2006 election, Smith – appointed to the post by county administrators – caused a controversy by denying the ballot designation requested by her opponent, Gregory Diaz. Diaz wanted the designation of “retired clerk-recorder,” but Smith used “recorder systems consultant” instead. Diaz was a consultant for clerk-recorder systems in the state at the time and a former San Francisco Clerk-Recorder.
Diaz said Tuesday he was not surprised with Smith’s resignation and he will apply to fulfill her term, which expires in January 2011. He said he filed to run against Smith in January 2006, after talking to her on the telephone.
Diaz said he was asking Smith how she felt about her upcoming race, when she told him she was unhappy with the position.
“She said . . . ‘I can’t see myself being here four years from now,'” Diaz said. “I fully didn’t expect her to file, and she did at the last minute.
“I’m very interested in the job, but I don’t have a clue as to the politics,” Diaz said. “I’ll have to find that out.”
Board was surprised
According to board chairman John Spencer, Smith told the county Board of Supervisors she was resigning right after 5 p.m. Monday as they concluded a budget meeting. Smith was appointed to office in 2004 after former County Clerk-Recorder Lorraine Jewitt-Burdick resigned in mid-term.
Prior to stepping down, Jewett-Burdick told the supervisors she was understaffed and had difficulty getting time off to deal with a family emergency.
Spencer said he did not know of anything wrong that caused Smith’s decision to resign.
“As far as I know, it’s a decision she made on her own,” Spencer said. “We met with her last week (in a budget sub-committee), and everything seemed OK then.”
Spencer added, however, that Smith did not seem pleased with her pending office move from the old HEW Building to the Eric W. Rood Administrative Center. He said she also was upset about the controversy regarding handicapped voting machines surrounding the last election.
“It hasn’t been easy for her the past six months,” Spencer said. “But there was nothing in her presentation that showed she was in distress or that something like this (resignation) was going to happen.”
Asked whether Smith had the tools to do her job properly, Spencer said the board has to assume department heads and elected officials have what they need to perform or else they would ask for them.
All of them submit a preliminary budget with basic needs, as well as a supplementary document listing items they could use to do their jobs better.
“Some things we can’t afford,” Spencer said. “She may very well get what she needs, but (now), that’s hard to say.”
In a letter handed to the supervisors, Smith said, “In the best interest of the citizens and voters of Nevada County and my career as a professional elections administrator, effective June 30, 2007, I resign as county clerk-recorder for the County of Nevada.”
Some of her troubles
Just after her victorious election in last year’s primary, Smith ran into more controversy.
In October 2006, Nevada City voters facing a sales tax on the November ballot were mistakenly mailed information about Grass Valley’s sales tax. Conversely, that information for Grass Valley voters was not in their pre-election mailing. A few days later, absentee ballots began coming in that had been cast using the incorrect information.
Right after the November election, there were also complaints about bad ballot scanners, slow returns and confusion about polling places.
Prior to the June 2006 primary, Smith had run into a litany of problems, including slow ballot returns that took almost one month to fully count and announce. In the November 2005 election, Smith changed a number of polling places and listed them on pre-election ballots, but many voters missed both the notice and the chance to vote.
In October 2004, one election office worker was fired and three others walked out in protest, causing one of them to say, “God help this county.”
To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@ theunion.com or call 477-4237.
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