Candidate for registrar appointment comes forward – sorta, kinda

I have finally made contact with the finalist for the Waynesboro voter registrar’s job, and she is “boiling” after reading the lead article in the June New Dominion Magazine, “‘The secrecy thing’: Did ‘done deal’ appointment skirt law?,” on the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that led to another candidate getting the job.

The woman, a City Hall employee with 17 years of experience in city government, said in a statement that she is “extremely disappointed in the whole shenanigans” related to the process that led to the appointment of former Nelson County registrar Lisa Wooten to replace Mary Alice Downs.

“Backroom politics – this is how it works,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified, when I met with her Monday afternoon.

The woman also asked me to relate that she “categorically had no part in leaking Mrs. Downs’ e-mails” to me that led to my investigation of the Wooten appointment, and I can confirm that to be the case.

The e-mails in question, dated Jan. 23, 2008, and Jan. 24, 2008, that indicated that Downs, then the Waynesboro voter registrar, had discussed her plans to retire at the end of calendar-year 2008 and inquired with Wooten about her interest in the job, were provided to me by another source not known by me to be affiliated with any of the potential candidates for the job.

Downs in the e-mail exchange made available to me in July 2008 mentioned her interest in maneuvering the Electoral Board, which ultimately would need to appoint Downs’ successor, “to future good for both of us,” hinting at her plans to fill the Republican seat on the three-member board, which came to fruition earlier this year following her retirement.

“I guess I just need to know if your interest would be strong enough to keep my board from searching high and low for a replacement for me,” Downs wrote in one Jan. 23, 2008 e-mail.

Requests for more e-mails between Downs and Wooten made by me under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act revealed extensive contacts between the two regarding the job, which was finally advertised as being open in July and filled in September when the Electoral Board informed Wooten that she was getting the appointment.

The e-mails obtained under FOIA also revealed the questions that were raised by a city employee who had been a finalist for the job and after learning that she had not gotten the job had filed her own FOIA request to access the records that were on file of the other applicants. Downs indicated in a Sept. 30 e-mail that the FOIA request had been denied, and in an earlier e-mail, dated Sept. 26, took a couple of personal jabs at the employee.

“One interviewee (who works for the city) was most disturbed she did not get the position,” Downs wrote in the e-mail. “I really think she wants a title. Anyway, she couldn’t do the job without about three steady months of training. She is quite competent but doesn’t make it easy to train for this job which is always changing. Whe has already complained to the HR department!. Was so upset that she has asked for three or four personal days leave. That is just her temperament and is another reason that emotionally she couldn’t handle the stresses of this office.”

 

– Story by Chris Graham


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