Rutherford Co. Gets New Elections Chief

Rutherford County has a new elections administrator, after a search process clouded by conflicts of interest allegations and lack of transparency.

Attorney Nicole Lester was hired by the county election commission Monday night, after a testy exchange over Lester’s ties to the Republican sheriff.

The Daily News Journal says the vote was along party lines, with Republican commissioners backing her.

Democrats Denice Rucker and Johnny Taylor opposed giving the job to Lester because her husband, Joe Russell, worked as the campaign treasurer for Republican Sheriff Robert Arnold and accepted appointment to be the chief of administration for the sheriff after Arnold won the Aug. 5 election.

“She has a perceived conflict of interest, so I’m disappointed in the results,” Rucker said after the meeting.

Lester will earn $84,321 annually and succeeds Tom Walker, who left the post in February, and Hooper Penuel, who retired in 2010 after he failed to hold early voting as required. The Daily News Journal opined last month that the hiring process had been harmed by violations of the Sunshine Law and political infighting.

Too much time has been spent on political bickering that has tarnished the commission’s reputation and left voters and taxpayers with a jaded view of the Election Office.

A cure is needed, and only transparency will provide it.