Election panel hires state GOP official

The finance director for the Republican Party of Arkansas will become the deputy director of the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners.

The board voted Friday to hire Heather McKim for the job. She will start in about two weeks, Justin Clay, director of the board, said during the meeting.

She will assume many of the duties of the director. Clay is stepping down effective Friday, but the board has not received Department of Finance and Administration approval to replace him. The approval is required because of a state hiring freeze.

Commissioner Stu Soffer, the Republican appointee to the board, made the motion to hire McKim.

"We have two very strong applicants," he said. "One has got technical qualifications, but the other has got high-level state government experience, as I recall, in two different positions."

McKim worked in the Office of Constituency Services at the state Senate and at the Division of Legislative Audit.

Commissioners also said Bernetta Levy, election coordinator for the board, was a strong applicant.

McKim has the most "executive management leadership experience," Soffer said, but "I want to hasten to add that I think we need to do something for the second highly qualified agency employee at the earliest opportunity."

Commissioner J. Harmon Smith, the Democratic Party appointee, questioned hiring someone from the state Republican Party.

"My preference would be someone already in the organization [who's] been there, knows what's going on," he said. "I'm the Democratic appointee, but I like this organization to stay nonpolitical if possible."

Both Smith and Soffer participated in the meeting via conference call.

Soffer said he took umbrage at Smith's comments. He told Smith that the Democratic Party has been on a "rampage" for two days. A.J. Kelly, deputy secretary of state and general counsel, cut Soffer off.

On Thursday, Democratic Party Chairman Vince Insalaco urged Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb to replace Soffer on the board because Soffer brandished a gun during an April dispute with a former member of the Jefferson County Election Commission.

Instead of replacing Soffer, Webb reappointed him to a second four-year term on the state board.

The state Board of Election Commissioners is chaired by the secretary of state and composed of six other members -- two appointed by the governor, and one each appointed by the chairman of the state Democratic Party, the chairman of the state Republican Party, the president pro tempore of the Arkansas Senate and the speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives.

Soffer was appointed by the chairman of the state Republican Party in 2012. The makeup of the board last changed before 2015, according to archived versions of its website.

"The mission of the Board is to improve the orderly conduct of elections in the State by promoting fair and orderly election procedures through education, assistance, and monitoring," according to its website.

Metro on 06/25/2016

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