Criticism of elections board chairman forwarded to state

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Requests to remove both the New Hanover County elections director and the chairman of the New Hanover County Board of Elections arrived separately at the office of the North Carolina State Board of Elections last week.

Three complaints about chairman John Ferrante were submitted Jan. 6, one day before the county board of elections officially requested the state board fire elections director Marvin McFadyen. The state board will hold a hearing if the complaints against Ferrante suggest a violation of the law, a breach of official duties or incapacity to perform official duties, or participation in intentional irregularities, said spokesperson Josh Lawson.

New Hanover County Democratic Party Chairman Richard Poole cited concerns about the flow of public information in his complaint, referring to two resolutions outlining responsibilities for board members and staff, approved 2-1 during a Dec. 11, 2014, meeting.

“It tends to centralize all of the authority of the board in one person — the chairman — and effectively cuts out other board members, even to the extent that board staff are prohibited from talking to board members about matters within the jurisdiction of the board,” Poole said.

Ferrante said the resolutions were necessary to delineate roles and protocol for board members and staff, and he denied claims that they prevent any communication.

Poole also included a Nov. 20, 2014, confrontation between Ferrante and Republican candidate for county commissioner Dr. Derrick Hickey in his complaint. Poole did not witness the event, but elections board member Tannis Nelson, listed as a witness, said the complaint contains an “accurate reflection” of the interaction. In his defense, Ferrante said Hickey “got very huffy” with him after he initiated a discussion about voted absentee ballots available on the county’s public email server, found by the Hickey campaign.

Carolyn Hilliard Bordeaux filed two complaints against Ferrante. In one complaint, Bordeaux recalls her experience sharing a concern with the board about the reaction of election officials at the Myrtle Grove library precinct during the 2014 primary election.

Bordeaux said she was denied an opportunity to witness the poll’s closing and was threatened with removal from the property after she restated her request several times. She attended a July meeting of the elections board to share her experience, where Bordeaux said Ferrante was “verbally combative, argumentative, and totally disrespectful” and confirmed she could have been arrested.

State election law enables citizens to witness poll closures, and Bordeaux said threats of arrest were unfounded.

“I believe his actions rise to the level of misconduct, especially since he was threatening a citizen with arrest over an issue in which the citizen was acting totally within the law,” Bordeaux said in the complaint.

Ferrante said Bordeaux could have been arrested for interfering with the chief judge’s ability to perform his duties, not for asking to witness poll closure.

“It went beyond asking. It was pushing the chief judge. It was interfering with the chief judge,” Ferrante said. “That’s what I was referring to as the power of arrest.”

In her second complaint, Bordeaux reiterates many concerns in Poole’s complaint, including the confrontation between Ferrante and Hickey. However, Bordeaux was not listed as a witness to the confrontation between Ferante and Hickey in Poole’s complaint.

Bordeaux also questions Ferrante and board secretary Marlene Mitchell’s shared connection to The Roger Bacon Academy. Ferrante serves on the board of trustees for charter day school, overseen by the for-profit charter school management company owned by Baker Mitchell, Marlene Mitchell’s husband.

Ferrante dismissed the issues raised in Bordeaux’s complaints as politically motivated.

“They’re frivolous and they have no basis in reality. She hasn’t shown any. They’re just hollow accusations, and they’re partisan,” Ferrante said.

Bordeaux declined to comment about her complaints.

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