Elections director McFadyen terminated

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New Hanover County Elections Director Marvin McFadyen has been officially terminated.

The New Hanover County Board of Elections submitted a petition for his removal to the N.C. State Board of Elections earlier in January, which included 44 pages of explanation and more than 60 pages of evidence. McFadyen responded to the petition through a lawyer, Raleigh-based attorney Roger Knight, giving the state board of elections until Feb. 17 to make a decision.

State board deputy director Amy Strange fulfilled the county board’s request to remove McFadyen from his position, a decision she based solely on the petition and McFadyen’s response, she said in a Feb. 4 memo to the county board.

The petition contains just cause for termination, Strange said, in particular because McFadyen cannot be trusted to ensure the county board complies with its statutory duties and cannot be trusted to be truthful with the county board. The November 2014 release of voted military and overseas absentee ballots and other confidential voter information on the county’s public email server played a prominent role in Strange’s decision to terminate McFadyen, the memo states.

Emails and information in the accounts of county department heads that are not flagged as confidential are displayed on the email server. The release, which occurred through McFadyen’s email account, is “an inexcusable breach of public trust and leads to a lack of confidence in the elections process,” Strange said in the memo.

His response to the release of the information supported the county board’s “lack of confidence that Mr. McFadyen can or will be truthful in his communications with the Board, the County, or others,” Strange continued. McFadyen’s explanation of the incident to the county board about the county’s confidential email policy is disputed by email correspondence from county manager Chris Coudriet and deputy county manager Avril Pinder, included in the board’s petition.

“Providing false or misleading information regarding a serious breach of State and federal laws constitutes just cause for termination,” Strange said.

New Hanover County Board of Elections Chairman John Ferrante said he was impressed by how quickly the state board rendered a decision.

“It shows that they really care about what’s going on and they take it seriously,” Ferrante said, “and I think it was the right decision. Now we can focus on what’s best for the citizens of New Hanover County, because there’s a lot of work to do, and this was just a big distraction.”

Board member Tannis Nelson said she was shocked that Strange reached a decision in only four business days. She said the ballots and other information were sent to McFadyen’s email address, not sent by it, and while she acknowledged McFadyen made a mistake and should be reprimanded, Nelson said she hopes the state board of elections “digs a little deeper” and allows him to stay on and receive additional training.

“I will accept what the state board has said, but I do feel like it’s very, very harsh. You’re taking a 17-year veteran of elections and just throwing that away, and I think there’s a lot there he can still contribute to elections,” Nelson said.

State law does not provide an opportunity for McFadyen to appeal Strange’s decision through the state board, said state elections board spokesperson Josh Lawson, but the state board can defer Strange’s decision, hear the matter themselves, and issue their own decision within 20 days. McFadyen can also appeal the decision in a separate lawsuit in state courts.

If McFadyen is held to such harsh standards, Nelson added, others in the elections office involved in the release of the ballots should be held to the same standard— notably, elections supervisor Derek Bowens, who McFadyen said in his response to the petition was responsible for overseeing the absentee ballots.

Bowens has been in charge of the elections office since Jan. 7, when the county board approved the petition to remove McFadyen and McFadyen was asked to leave the offic

Ferrante said the county board should uncover more information about the ballots and confidential information that ended up on the server, more specifically, how the information was originally discovered and disseminated.

“I think we’ve heard some pieces of the story, but there are other pieces of the puzzle that we haven’t heard,” Ferrante said.

The board is likely to discuss a plan to replace McFadyen during its next scheduled meeting on Feb. 10 at 10 a.m. in the elections board office.

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