Commissioner Hearn’s vote for relative draws criticism
Put on the hot seat by fellow Commissioner Steve Brown at the April 6 commission meeting, Fayette County Commissioner Lee Hearn acknowledged that a recent appointee to the county’s elections board is “a distant cousin” of his.
After the meeting, Hearn told The Citizen that Addison Lester III is his mother’s first cousin, but he recommended Lester’s appointment because
Lester had lived in the county for years, and also because he is retired and has the time to devote to the position.
Brown said Monday that the revelation about Lester’s familial relationship to Hearn calls into question whether Lester should be supervising the election next year because Hearn will be eligible to seek re-election.
At the April 6 commission meeting, Brown said he thought that Hearn’s relationship to Lester should have been disclosed when the commission voted 3-2 to appoint Lester at the Feb. 24 meeting.
“I think that would have been proper, to disclose the relationship,” Brown said.
Hearn said in hindsight he regrets not explaining his familial relationship with Lester prior to the Feb. 24 vote to appoint Lester to the elections board.
“The point is we need to have fair and just elections in the county and our cities,” Hearn said, noting that Lester is one of three members of the elections board.
Hearn said he feels comfortable with Lester remaining on the elections board “because of his background, expertise and willingness to serve.” Lester, Hearn noted, is the son of former Fayetteville City Manager Doc Lester.
“I believe he will do a great job for us,” Hearn said.
Brown, however, wants to revisit the appointment at a future commission meeting.
“I just don’t think you can have somebody who is a blood relative, even if it’s a second cousin, managing your re-election results,” Brown said. “I just don’t think it’s ethical and I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”
Brown at the Feb. 24 meeting opposed Lester’s appointment since Lester would be replacing long-time elections board member Marilyn Watts, who had asked to be re-appointed to the position.
Brown contended that Watts should stay on the board given her vast experience with election laws, particularly since the other two appointees on the board were going to be elections board rookies.
The county commission directly appoints one of the three board of elections members. The other positions are filled by one appointment each from the local Republican party and the local Democratic party.
Hearn said he feels Brown would have opposed any person whom he sought to put on the board.
Brown said the county needs to revamp how it handles the process of appointing volunteers to the county’s various boards and commissions. He suggests that applicants should fill out an application which contains their name, address, length of time living in Fayette County and perhaps why they would like to be on the Board of Elections, for example, along with what things they would like to see remain in place and other changes they’d like to explore.
“We’ve got to take this extremely seriously and have a little bit of process in place for selecting these folks,” Brown said.