Fellow BOE member Houston Groome: ‘You are not a team player. You’re a Bill Stone player’
Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a two-part article. Part 1 can be read here.
LENOIR, N.C. – As reported on Oct. 31 on this site, Bill Stone, the chairman of the Caldwell County Board of Elections (BOE), has had at least three complaints filed against him with officials in Raleigh regarding allegations of wrongdoing during Early Voting in Lenoir.
This is nothing new. The North Carolina Republican Party has done everything in its power since taking over the North Carolina General Assembly in 2011 to subvert voting rights of minorities, the poor and vulnerable in North Carolina. They’ve largely succeeded – despite the many court rulings against them – because of people like Bill Stone.
For instance, at the Caldwell BOE meeting on Oct. 30, Stone would not allow questions from the public because public input was not on the agenda. Fortunately, Stone is not the only member of the board. In addition to Stone, there are three other members of the BOE – Vice-chairman Fred Piercy, Secretary Houston Groome and member Pete McIlwain. Like Stone, McIlwain is a Republican. Piercy and Groome are Democrats.
In any event, Groome put forward a motion that in future meetings, time for public input be allowed. Groome looked at McIlwain and asked, “You’ll second that won’t you Pete?” McIlwain did. Stone said he didn’t like the idea, saying, “These comments always get personal. I don’t want that.”
Bill, you’re not a team player. You are a Bill Stone player.” – Houston Groome, Caldwell County BOE Secretary.
Groome replied, “Bill, the only ones that are personal are directed at you. You’re a lightning rod for controversy. You need to stay out of the parking lot.” Groome referenced an incident the previous week, when voters were complaining about aggressive behavior by volunteers for campaigns. Director of Elections Sandra Rich asked all four board members to go out together to talk to all the volunteers. As Groome noted, “Bill, the three of us could not get out of our chairs before you were outside saying whatever you were saying to them.”
Groome added, “Bill, you’re not a team player. You are a Bill Stone player.”
Groome also noted that when he had previously served on the board, public comment was part of the agenda. He said, “They can say anything they want about any item on the agenda or anything about voting. That’s why we’re here.” Piercy also called for adding a public comment period, saying, “We serve the public.”
Ultimately, a public comment period was added to future BOE meetings on a voice vote. Director of Elections Sandra Rich said after the meeting, “In the past, anyone could come to the meetings and be allowed to speak. But since the board has changed, that ended.”
The way I see it, I want all board members to represent all of the people and do their job. They need to cooperate, and I don’t see that with Bill. They need to work as one, not against each other.” – Caldwell BOE Director of Elections Sandra Rich
Groome and Piercy also cautioned Stone about appearing to favor Republicans. They asked Stone to not roam around the parking lot during early voting, as his time speaking with Republican Party candidates and workers calls into question his impartiality. Instead, as reported in the first story, when others at the table reminded Stone that he represented the BOE and hence had to be impartial, Stone replied, “I am going to represent myself.”
When asked about the complaint leveled against him by Michael Careccia, Stone seemingly underscored the concerns expressed by Groome and Piercy. Stone refused to answer, but did turn to McIlwain and say, “This is politics. We need to take this up with the (Republican) executive committee.” Immediately thereafter, though the meeting was not in recess, Stone and McIlwain retired to Rich’s office for a sidebar conversation.
So, during a meeting intended to have impartial discussions about voting rights, Stone was doing political calculus rather than heeding the calls of his BOE colleagues to hear from those complaining against him.
Rich finds Stone’s behavior disturbing. “As a board, when they come in that door, they are to leave the party at the door and serve all of the voters of the county.”
Indeed, Rich, who during her many years as the Director of Elections would never comment publicly or privately on board members, said she could remain silent no longer about Bill Stone. “The way I see it, I want all board members to represent all of the people and do their job. They need to cooperate, and I don’t see that with Bill. They need to work as one, not against each other.”
Rich is right. We can do better. The people serving on the Board of Elections are supposed to be advocates for voters. Bill Stone, ironically, is actively working to discourage voting. Because the Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly has mangled election laws so badly, the future of local boards of elections is unclear. Hell, everything about North Carolina’s future elections is unclear thanks to the intentional undermining of our democratic processes by the North Carolina GOP.
What is clear however is this – it’s time for Bill Stone to go. Our voters deserve someone that believes in our Republic rather than actively works to subvert it.
Stone, a Republican and Caldwell County Board of Elections chairman, responds defiantly
Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a two-part article.
LENOIR, N.C. – Bill Stone, the chairman of the Caldwell County Board of Elections (BOE), has had at least three complaints filed against him with election officials in Raleigh regarding allegations of wrongdoing during Early Voting in Lenoir.
These are bullshit. We’re not going to do anything. Just send them to Raleigh.” – Bill Stone, Chairman, Caldwell County Board of Elections, responding to complaints against him.
In one complaint, Michael Careccia, a campaign staffer with the campaign of state senate candidate Art Sherwood, alleges that Stone both misrepresented and failed to properly exercise his authority as BOE chairman. Careccia sent his complaint to the North Carolina State Board and Ethics Enforcement earlier this week. The incident Careccia reports occurred on Oct. 22.
Careccia presented copies of his complaint to the full BOE at the beginning of its regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 30. Stone took exception to the presentation of the document. After Careccia left the room, Stone rebuked Sandra Rich, the Director of Elections for the BOE, saying, “You know when we get these sort of things you need to bring them to my attention.”
Rich countered that she would not present a document to just one member, but the entire board at once. In an interview after the meeting, Rich reiterated that view. “I give it to the whole board because I serve the whole board.”
Careccia’s complaint recounts, “On Monday, October 22, 2018, I was working at the Lenoir Early/Open Voting location …. Shortly after noon, I noticed a green pick-up truck parked in a parking spot designated for voters only. Upon noticing that the owner of the truck was not there to vote but to pass out political literature, I went into the county Board of Elections office to report it.”
Careccia added that because Stone had stated that he “was the person in charge,” “I asked Mr. Stone to have the person move the vehicle. He refused. After multiple attempts to request that he enforce the rules that he had presented to candidates and poll workers only a few weeks before during a BOE training … (and) since Mr. Stone had said he was in charge, I insisted that he had invoked jurisdiction and was therefore responsible to enforce voting laws.”
Careccia concluded, “He continued to ignore my requests until I informed him that I would report him to the state and take legal action if necessary. It was only then that Mr. Stone finally asked the owner to remove his truck from the designated voter parking spot.”
So, Careccia posed six questions to the Board of Ethics:
- Does Mr. Stone oversee the local Board of Elections staff, or does the Director (and hence staff) not answer directly to the N.C. Board of Elections?
- As Chairman, is Mr. Stone’s legal standing not limited to his role and status only when the Caldwell County Board of Elections meets as a corporate body, or may he (or other members) act in an official capacity apart from a legally called public meeting?
- Are there times when Mr. Stone (or any person in the position of BOE chair/member) is the person designated as the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) on behalf of the Caldwell County Board of Elections? If so, when?
- If Mr. Stone was the AHJ, why did he fail to act immediately?
- If Mr. Stone is not the AHJ, then did he not misrepresent his role and overstep his authority?
- If Mr. Stone is not the AHJ, who is?
Following the meeting, I spoke with Rich about these questions. She was unequivocal about Stone’s authority over her. “I am hired and fired by the state board.” Regarding the questions about who is in charge, again she was clear. “Me. By statute, the Director of Elections is the person in charge.”
Two other complaints were filed, both having to do with incidents that happened on Oct. 24. In one incident, Lorene Reece, a worker in the office at the Lenoir Early Voting location, recounted an event when Reece was taking a complaint from a voter about the behavior of Republican poll workers who “… really felt threatening.” According to the report by Reece, Stone replied, “Let her (the voter) fill out her complaint. It would not go anywhere. These campaigners can say anything they want to as long as the don’t put their hands on them. They can campaign anywhere they want to.”
Stone’s statement is not accurate. There are specific rules regarding campaigning outside of an election precinct, and Stone should know that since he was one of the trainers in Caldwell County for campaigns and candidates this election cycle regarding campaign law.
When Rich presented the board members copies of the other two complaints, Stone snapped at her, “You know I’ve got a problem with an employee making a complaint.” Rich again stated that all board members would be shown complaints simultaneously. After the meeting, Rich noted that Reece was well within her rights and insisted, “She was doing her job.”
The third incident involved Robert Reece. He reports that when he came to the voting location to take his wife to a doctor’s appointment, “As I was heading into the building at the single glass door entrance, I spoke to a campaigner at the area near there and asked him why he was there instead of up in the designated area assigned to campaigners. He told me he could campaign anywhere he pleased.” Reece continued, “I returned outside with my wife through the same door where I saw him and Mr. Stone laughing and joking around at the bed of his truck. He told Mr. Stone that ‘He’s the one,’ indicating me.”
Stone was with the husband of the Republican candidate for Clerk of Superior Court. Reece continued, “Mr. Stone told me that Mr. Kidd could campaign anywhere he chose. I said I thought I would call Raleigh and confirm that. Mr. Stone said he was chair of the Board of Election and that that those rules meant nothing.”
Stone was defiant throughout the meeting, not only regarding the complaints, but also in response to pleas for cooperation from Rich and the other three board members – Houston Groome, Pete McIlwain and Fred Piercy.
When Rich pleaded with him to understand that he represented the entire board, Stone said, “I am going to represent myself. So unless you have three votes, go on with your agenda.” When Groome replied, “Bill, every time you go outside something happens,” Stone exclaimed, “I’m not going to change!”
Stone then added, “I keep an attorney on retainer.”
When Piercy asked Stone to work with the other board members, Stone argued, “Show me the statute.”
Piercy replied, “It’s just common courtesy and decency.”
And on it went until Stone returned to the complaints. Looking at Rich, he said, “These are bullshit. We’re not going to do anything. Just send them to Raleigh.”
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Top photo: Bill Stone, center, chairs a meeting of the Caldwell County Board of Elections on Tuesday, Oct. 30. Middle photo: Campaign workers outside the Early Voting location in Lenoir, N.C. Bottom photo: Signs outside the Early Voting location.