At 7:30am on October 3rd, residents gathered online, as well as in person to hear details of the “allegations of malfeasance by the Torrance County Clerk”. A public announcement of this morning’s meeting was issued a few days prior, as required by law. Allegations of nepotism against the Republican Clerk, Yvonne Otero, were still top of mind for many, though.
Over forty people on Zoom and several others present in the Commission Chambers awaited the County Manager, County Attorney, and County Commissioners to emerge from Executive Session until well past 8:00am. Upon calling the meeting to order, Commission Chair Ryan Schwebach disclosed the results of an independent investigation into the allegations against the Clerk.
The allegations against Clerk Otero included the use of cocaine “over the past several years”, the use of a taser near an employee with a known medical condition, making sexually charged comments, and falsely attesting to the certification of election tabulators the Clerk was not present to certify.
Some of the allegations could not be substantiated. However, Commission Chair Schwebach emphasized that some of the claims were both substantiated and found to be more serious than previously imagined. The Clerk’s decision to sign the tabulator certification forms prior to certification was a problem. To aggravate matters, the Clerk never showed up to witness the tabulator certifications she attested to with her signature.
The Path Forward
The County Manager stated during the meeting this morning the County sought guidance from the Office of the Secretary of State on the matter. The Office of the Secretary of State advised the County to re-certify the tabulator machines to which corresponded the certification forms signed by the County Clerk, who was absent during the process. The additional man hours needed to repeat the certification process will cause unnecessary expense to the County already under pressure to certify its machines in time for early voting.
The Commission agreed to authorize the County Manager to pursue any legal remedy available to the County to ensure the actions of the Clerk did not further endanger the safety of employees nor integrity of the fast-approaching election. Concerns were shared between the Commissioners and County Manager about whether employees of the Clerk’s office could be guaranteed a safe work environment while legal remedies were sought.
The County Manager explained she lacked the authority to place the Clerk on administrative leave pending investigation given the Clerk was an elected official. Thus, to ensure the safety of employees in the Clerk’s Office, the Manager and Commissioners discussed allowing those employees to telework for the moment, presumably to avoid whistleblower retaliation.
Another concern shared by the Commission and Manager centered around providing adequate resources to the election process amid the new challenges. Should legal remedies or teleworking create delays in election preparation or execution, the Commission signaled it would provide funding and authority to temporarily employ additional staff to assist with the election.
Official Statements from County Party Chairs
We reached out to the three major political party chairs for their responses and obtained the following statements:
These new allegations represent some of the many reasons the public distrusts government. For an elected public servant to pre-sign documents that attest to voting machines being properly certified is not of sound reason, especially given the current lack of faith in the voting systems of those who elected the clerk.
As to the allegations of issues that have arisen in the workplace, especially actions that our county manager said would lead her to pursue termination of a hired employee, I would say that what few government officials we truly need should certainly maintain a level of decorum and sobriety while receiving both the voting confidence and the monetary payment from the taxpayer.
Commissioner Schwebach has offered Clerk Otero an opportunity to resign. I feel she should take that option rather than forcing the county to take action that would cost the taxpayers even more than this already has, and to help Torrance County voters alleviate some of the distrust this has helped sow.Rob Wagner, Libertarian Party
The allegations related to Ms. Otero signing the certifications of the voting machines prior to the actual inspections are extremely concerning, although the actual inspections were performed properly. The Democratic Party of Torrance County had an observer present and we are satisfied that those who performed the inspections did so professionally.
Ms. Otero deserves to present her side of the story in an appropriate forum. But the County Commission had no recourse other than tackling these allegations head-on which they did.Dennis Wallin, Democrat Party
We look forward to adding any statement provided by the Republican Party on this matter.
2022.10.03 Admin Special Meeting
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