Albert Tieche is out at the Davidson County Election Commission, and Commissioner Jim Gotto announced he will be leaving as well.
After a heated meeting where tempers where high and accusations flew, the commission voted 4 to 1 to fire Tieche from his post as administrator of elections. The decision follows a highly critical report from the state, detailing numerous problems with the execution of elections over the last year.
Before the vote, Gotto — a newly appointed Republican commissioner — accused Chairman Ron Buchanan of “fast-tracking” the process, and harboring a “deep personal bias” against Tieche. Gotto will remain on the commission through July 31, or until state Republicans can find a replacement.
“You’ve lost my respect and my trust,” Gotto told Buchanan, to loud applause from a room full of Republican activists who shared his displeasure with the chairman.
Both Tieche and Gotto left the meeting without comment.
Tieche appeared to be in trouble from the minute the meeting was called to order. As the crowded hearing room of reporters, activists, and a couple of Metro Council members looked on, a clearly agitated Buchanan began a lengthy statement by addressing the stream of mean emails he had received in recent weeks, some of which he said may have even crossed the line into being criminally threatening.
He also denied the rumors in those emails that he had been appointed with a directive to fire Tieche. In fact, he said, the only directive he and the other new commissioners received, aside from carrying out the duties of the commission, was to stay out of the headlines. Buchanan acknowledged that they had “failed miserably” at that goal.
The chairman went on to summarize a number of problems cited in state Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins’ review of the commission, including failure to open on a Saturday during early voting, understaffed and under-resourced polling places, inadequately trained poll workers, and issuing conflicting reports regarding voter participation to the state. Along the way, Buchanan rejected just about every defense Tieche had offered for the failings.
At one point, Buchanan’s interrogation of Tieche gave way to a heated exchange between Buchanan and Gotto. In response to a question from Buchanan about how many votes Gotto had lost his last state House race by — in relation to the state review’s criticism of conflicting voter participation data coming from the commission — Gotto told Buchanan that he didn’t see how that was relevant, adding that he felt Buchanan’s tone toward Tieche was “inappropriate.” That drew a harsh rebuke from Buchanan, who told Gotto that he did not have the floor and ordered him to “sit silently.”
Later, after Buchanan made a motion to terminate Tieche, Democratic Commissioner A.J. Starling acknowledged the “difficulties” with the election process as of late, but also defended Tieche’s character.
“What I don’t want to see is Mr. Tieche being degraded or belittled or anything like that,” he said. “He doesn’t deserve that. Whatever we decide to do, we need to do it without destroying this man’s character. I stand on that.”
Gotto addressed the commission by reading a letter, but not before directing another comment at Buchanan.
“I’m not going to make a motion to table your motion, because it’s obvious that you’ve already got your votes worked out,” Gotto said, as Buchanan interrupted, denying that he had spoken to any of the commissioners ahead of time.
The letter outlined Gotto’s concerns about Buchanan’s handling of the situation, and his decision to preempt the state election commission, which meets next week. Gotto also said he was “deeply disturbed” that Buchanan had “approached [Tieche] with the threat of this meeting to attempt to coerce him to resign.”
“Through all of this, you have unfortunately lost my respect and my trust,” Gotto concluded. “I realize that in submitting this letter, my continued presence on this commission will be controversial and not in the best interest of the citizens of Davidson County. So I respectfully tender my resignation, effective July 31, 2013, or when a suitable replacement is found by the Davidson County Republican delegation, whichever comes first.”
Buchanan acknowledged later that he had met with Tieche, and his attorney Art McClellan, to “talk to them about how we should proceed.” Buchanan said he “told Mr. Tieche what I thought might happen, and I gave him an opportunity to try to decide what he wanted to do, rather than us making that decision for him,” adding that he “thought that was the gentlemanly thing to do.”
“Since that time, Mr. Tieche has taken those two weeks to mount a campaign to try to threaten me, coerce and intimidate me,” Buchanan said, amidst shouts of “not true” and “that’s a lie” from the crowd.
By then, there was little doubt what the outcome would be, and in the end, Gotto was the lone vote against firing Tieche.
After the vote, Buchanan was confronted by most of those gathered for the proceedings, many of whom told him he was wrong about Tieche’s involvement in a “campaign” against him. Speaking to reporters, Buchanan did not back off his allegation.
“If he didn’t organize it, he knew what was going on, and allowed it to go on,” Buchanan said. “These were all friends of his, and that was made perfectly well known to me that these were friends of his. And whether he asked them to do it, or they took it upon themselves, I hold him responsible for it.”
Buchanan was similarly unmoved by Gotto’s resignation.
“That’s certainly his response,” he said. “I regret that he’s made that decision. I don’t agree with it, if you don’t win, or you don’t think you’re going to win, you don’t take your marbles and go home.”