King County elections official demoted
King County Elections Superintendent Bill Huennekens was demoted yesterday in a shake-up that could soon affect other employees involved...
Seattle Times staff reporter
King County Elections Superintendent Bill Huennekens was demoted yesterday in a shake-up that could soon affect other employees involved in the flawed 2004 election.
Huennekens' boss, Dean Logan, director of Records, Elections and Licensing Services, announced the reassignment of the man he recruited in late 2003 to run the 12th-largest election operation in the nation.
In a newly created position, compliance project manager for the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA), Huennekens will be in charge of administering federal grants and installing voting equipment accessible to people with disabilities.
A review of problems in the November election showed Huennekens would be better suited to the new job than to managing the entire election operation.
Elections Assistant Superintendent Garth Fell testified in a legal deposition last month that Huennekens knew a report prepared by absentee-ballot supervisor Nicole Way incorrectly showed all absentee ballots accounted for.
Huennekens has said he could not specifically remember what he knew about the report before he gave it to the county canvassing board.
Lawyers for Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi cited the misleading ballot report as one reason to set aside Democrat Christine Gregoire's narrow election victory. Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges upheld Gregoire's election last week.
The new job, which takes effect July 11, will pay Huennekens $80,357 a year, a $3,903 cut from his present salary.
Logan said he anticipates "a series of changes" over the next month or two.
"I think it was important to do that in a way that demonstrates to the entire organization that we take responsibility at the management level and that we're going to address those issues and we're going to go through literally every level of the organization," he said.
Logan said he plans to hire an executive-search firm to conduct a nationwide search — a task he doesn't expect will be easy. The county "did not get a huge onslaught of applicants" for the job in 2003, and highly publicized problems in the 2004 election may discourage potential applicants this time, Logan said.
Three employees who were placed on administrative leave in April in connection with other election problems will return to their jobs next week. An outside investigation has reached the preliminary conclusion that there was no "intentional misconduct" by those workers when ballots were left out of envelopes sent to some absentee voters in an April hospital-levy election, Logan said.
A fourth employee, absentee-ballot supervisor Way, remains on leave pending completion of the probe, likely next month.
Logan ordered the investigation after valid absentees from the November election were found uncounted this spring and the mailing of ballots for the April election was found to have been mishandled.
"I think it's a good thing for me and it's a good thing for King County Elections," Huennekens said of his reassignment. "It allows me to use my best skills and my best talents to help the agency to continue to move forward."
Huennekens drafted the state's implementation plan for the new Help America Vote Act in his previous job with the secretary of state.
County Councilman David Irons, R-Sammamish, blasted Huennekens' reassignment. If Huennekens failed to do his job, he should have been fired, said Irons, who is running against Logan's boss, King County Executive Ron Sims.
"This is absolutely another demonstration of the inability to make a management decision," Irons said. "I'm sorry, you don't do that. You don't put people on merry-go-rounds and keep them there forever."
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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