COUNTY NEWS: Update on damaged election equipment; county council approves various requests

Election equipment clean up completed, testing to be done

Testing of election equipment potentially damaged by a kitchen pipe leak in the basement of the Brown County Law Enforcement will happen soon after it was professionally cleaned in October.

Professional cleaning company Servpro cleaned all of the equipment over three days that was held in the cage in the law enforcement center’s basement.

“If it was able to be cleaned it was and if it had to be destroyed it was destroyed,” Clerk Kathy Smith told the county’s election board on Nov. 2.

Smith said many envelopes and paper products were lost due to the leak.

Any damaged ballots or paper rolls were shredded by Servpro, Smith said.

“They kept feeding that until it was all gone into the shredder. It is not out anywhere for anybody to be able to use or get back into it,” she said.

Election board President Mark Williams said that in October board members looked at the ballot boxes and ballots inside, but nothing was wet.

“We were satisfied the ballots were all in good shape and the ballots were not disrupted,” Williams said.

The circuit court also had files in that cage.

At the November election board meeting, Williams told Smith to have the voting machine vendors test their equipment to make sure it is all operating properly. The company that provides the paper ballots and the machine to scan them is RBM. VR Systems Inc. is the company that provides the poll books that voters sign in on when they check in at the polls. Both were stored in the cage.

“Then if there is an issue we will have plenty of time before the election cycle starts,” he said.

Due to the price of shipping, the county commissioners suggested to Smith last month that they have vendor representatives come to Brown County to test the machines instead of sending them away.

VR Systems Inc., which is located in Florida, will be at an election conference this month, so Smith said she would try to get someone from the company to come to Brown County to test the equipment while they are in Indiana.

“It might be more cost effective to have them come here then we don’t ship them. They are not lost in transit, we know who has touched it, no questions,” Biddle said at the Nov. 3 commissioners meeting.

RBM suggested sending a technician over from Ohio to make sure all of their equipment still works, Smith said at the Nov. 3 commissioners meeting.

Overall the backup batteries for the voting machines were all damaged in the leak along with bags used to transport election supplies on election day, paper rolls for printing reports at the end of the night along with paper for the poll books and ADA machines were also damaged. Storage boxes were also lost.

A leaking cast iron pipe from the jail’s kitchen located directly above the locked cage in the basement caused the damage. The pipe had been dripping for some time before breaking.

A cleaner kitchen staff was using was identified as the cause of the leak and it is no longer being used. The pipe was replaced with PVC pipe.

Smith was going to work with county human resources Coordinator Melissa Stinson on submitting an insurance claim for the damaged equipment and cost of cleaning.

Smith was working to finalize the cost of everything that was damaged last month.

Council OKs hiring new public defender, other requests

Brown County Council approved requests for replacements of positions in county government at their Nov. 15 meeting.

One request was for one of the county’s four public defenders.

Brown County Public Defender Board member Rick Kelley said there is a potential candidate for the position. Due to a hiring freeze for county positions, Kelley approached the council regarding the need.

Other position replacements brought forth to the council were for the Office of Planning and Zoning and the treasurer’s office.

Departments in county government have been asked to post jobs internally when a vacancy opens before posting the opening externally, which would require departments to work with the county commissioners, county council and human resources.

“It’s a way of helping the organization put the best people in the most interesting, critical roles,” Council President David Redding said. “We’re trying to get people on the team to apply for (those positions).”

The council, commissioners and HR will also work to determine if a position is considered “essential” and must be filled.

At the November meeting, the council also voted to adopt a resolution to join the public employees’ retirement fund as administered by the Indiana Public Retirement System.

If a new employee comes in Jan. 1 they will receive a 3.2 percent employer contribution to their PERF plan instead of the previous 11.2 percent. Also, employees will be vested after five years instead of 10, and elected officials will be vested after four years, which will hopefully help with retention of younger employees.

Brown County Auditor Julia Reeves requested $3,000 stipends be approved for employees in her office who have taken on the responsibility of other individuals who have left the office and whose positions will not be replaced.

The request was approved by the council in four installments in the year of 2022.

The council also passed a resolution clarifying and amending the employee longevity bonus in the county’s salary ordinance for the Brown County Sheriff’s Office.