Friday, March 03, 2006

Coincidence and Crying in the Lincoln County Courthouse

by Kyle Michaelis
The over-abundance of Republican candidates this year (at least, relative to the Nebraska Democratic Party's disappointing recruitment performance) has just turned ugly in a local race in North Platte. One has a feeling that this isn't the last of the ugliness we'll see in these or the higher-tier, statewide races as the Republican primary draws ever-closer.

The North Platte Bulletin reports (w/some fascinating reader feedback):
There’s always a danger in applying for the boss’s job, especially if the boss isn’t ready to leave.

Deputy Lincoln County Treasurer Sue Fleck filed as a candidate Tuesday for the job held by County Treasurer Connie Chrisman. Fleck was fired a few hours later.

Both women are Republicans.

Chrisman cried while saying it was difficult to fire Fleck. “It was awful,” a tearful Chrisman said. “We’d worked together for years. It was tough.”

“A deputy is supposed to be a right-hand person,” Chrisman said. “I needed to make a decision on behalf of myself and my office.”

Chrisman said she felt she lost that “loyalty factor” after Fleck filed against her.

“I didn’t know if she’d still be working for the benefit of my office,” Chrisman said. “We’re either a team or not a team. She made a decision not to be a team player.”

Fleck said she wasn’t surprised by the firing.

Firings in Nebraska when an employee of an office files against a challenger have happened many times. In 2002, then Buffalo County Attorney Andy McMullen fired deputy county attorney Sean Eatherton after Eatherton filed to run against him.

Several months later, McMullen fired another deputy in the office, Melodie Bellamy, after he learned she campaigned for Eatherton. “The statute says she serves at my pleasure, and it wasn't my pleasure anymore,” McMullen said at the time. “I couldn't trust her.”

Eatherton went on to win 90 percent of the vote against McMullen in the primary election and ran unopposed in the general election that year. He rehired Bellamy after he took office in January.

An interesting cautionary tale there at the end. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, especially because the Associated Press has an entirely different take on the story:
A deputy county treasurer of 26 years lost her job on the same day she filed to run for election against her boss.

Deputy County Treasurer Sue Fleck, who worked for Lincoln County Treasurer Connie Chrisman, said she was “let go” at about 4 p.m. on Tuesday. Earlier that day, she filed papers to run for Chrisman’s position.

Chrisman, who took office in 1990, has filed for re-election. She would not comment on the reason for the firing, but she said it was coincidence that Fleck was fired the same day she filed for Chrisman’s job.

So, to the local press this Chrisman is crying about how painful a decision this was. To the AP, it's all just a matter of coincidence. Lordy, if this woman had a bit more ambition, I reckon she'd make it pretty far in politics.

It's worth noting that a similar situation had the potential of playing out in the city of Lincoln this year, though that inter-Party, inter-office crisis was averted when the incumbent Lancaster County Clerk decided not to seek re-election after his job performance came under fire. The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
If elected Lancaster County Clerk, one of the first things Trish Owen plans to do is eliminate her current job.

Owen, a Republican who has been chief deputy county clerk since 2001, says she would eliminate the position as part of an overall management restructuring.

Owen filed for the office Friday, the same day her boss, Bruce Medcalf, withdrew his bid for re-election.

Medcalf, also a Republican, quit the race less than a week after a Journal Star story chronicled questions about his attendance at work and assertions by some county officials that Owen was essentially running the office. Medcalf endorsed Owen’s candidacy.

In an interview Monday, Owen did not directly address the concerns about Medcalf, but she said that in her five years in the office it became apparent to her that there were redundancies, and the clerk and deputy clerk jobs “could be consolidated into a one-person position.”

Another smooth political move. Taking a page out of Lady MacBeth's playbook, Owen might have the right idea by simply eliminating the same job from which she ascended through the ranks. She's not just eliminating the competition; she's eliminating the possibility of competition.

Got to think Chrisman in North Platte is wishing she'd thought of the same thing years ago. Added bureaucracy, even though it usually means less actual work for the boss, just isn't worth it when those below you threaten your employment.

To be honest, for all the Republican shenanigans that are undoubtedly taking place behind the scenes, I must admit to some degree of envy. Only a political party with that tight a grip on public offices and the voters' imagination could get away with such political misadventures. Perhaps one day, Nebraska Democrats, too, will be in a position to abuse their offices. A kid can dream; can't he?

So, the madness and intrigue continue. It's election time in Nebraska. Stay tuned.

(And, for a little taste of more of the same, read about a similar situation of R v. R-boss v. subordinate-action in the race for Douglas County Sheriff. Check it out: 1. 2. 3. Here we're talking "disgruntled employees" and gag rules. FUN!)


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