WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WBTV) - North Carolina State Board of Elections member Ken Raymond is not happy with the process that led to Karen Brinson Bell being hired as the agency’s new executive director.
Raymond, one of two Republicans on the five-member board, voted against Brinson Bell’s hiring. He, along with fellow Republican David Black, both voiced their support for outgoing NCSBE Director Kim Strach.
Strach’s last day leading the agency is Friday. Brison Bell will start on Monday.
It’s a return to the agency for Brinson Bell. She previously worked for the NCSBE servicing county boards of elections in the western part of the state and, later, served as the director of the Transylvania County Board of Elections.
She has spent the past two years working as a consultant on elections-related issued for a non-profit organization led by Gary Bartlett, who spent two decades leading the NCSBE before being fired by a Republican-controlled board in favor of Strach.
In an interview with WBTV, Raymond questioned the process by which the board came to vote—along party lines—to hire Brinson Bell.
“I don’t like the process. I don’t like the way it happened at all,” Raymond said.
Raymond said the first and only communication he received regarding plans to oust Strach came in a phone call from NCSBE Chairman Bob Cordle on April 9.
“The chairman told me that we were going to have a vote to replace Kim Strach,” Raymond recalled. “Right away, I objected because Kim Strach was an excellent executive director.”
“He said ‘well, it’s a political thing,’” Raymond recalled Cordle saying.
In the days after Brinson Bell was hired, WRAL reported that a top political consultant to Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, was involved in the discussions to replace Strach. Bartlett, the former elections director, was also involved in the conversations, the station reported.
“I had no idea,” Raymond said, when asked whether he knew of the conversations between Cordle and Bartlett and the governor’s political consultant.
“I had no indication, I thought this all came to me from the chairman,” Raymond said. “In the back of my mind, I was thinking that somebody – there had to have been some outside political pressure to do this, there had to have been.”
Multiple sources confirm to WBTV that Katelyn Love, who currently serves as the NCSBE Deputy General Counsel, was also interviewed for the director position.
Those same sources—who spoke with WBTV on the condition they not be identified in order to discuss a sensitive internal hiring process—said board member Stella Anderson, a Democrat, advocated for hiring Love over Brinson Bell.
Reached by phone and asked to comment specifically on her preference for Love over Brinson Bell during the hiring process, Anderson declined to comment.
“I don’t think it’s productive for me to comment any further about that,” Anderson said.
A spokesman for the NCSBE confirmed to WBTV late Wednesday that board members held interviews with two candidates. Gannon did not identify the second candidate.
Gannon said board members interviewed Brinson Bell on April 13 in Charlotte.
“The interview was conducted by panels of two board members at a time to ensure compliance with open meetings laws,” Gannon said in an email.
The interview with the second candidate took place on April 22 in Greensboro with the same two-member setup, Gannon said.
Love has been named the Acting General Counsel effective June 1. Her appointment comes in the wake of the resignation of Josh Lawson, who served as the board’s top lawyer for much of Strach’s tenure as NCSBE Director.
Lawson resigned less than an hour after the board voted to hire Brinson Bell.
Raymond pointed to Lawson’s departure as evidence that the way in which the board effected the leadership change may hurt morale at the agency.
“That tells you everything you need to know,” Raymond said of Lawson’s departure.
Reached by phone and asked to provide an on-camera interview in response to Raymond’s comments for this story, Cordle declined.
“I’m not going to get into an argument with Ken over the telephone,” Cordle said. “We’ve said our piece at the meeting in Raleigh.”