The State Board of Elections wants to pay incoming Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell nearly $30,000 more than her predecessor Kim Strach.
During a teleconference vote Thursday, May 23, board members unanimously voted to recommend the Office of State Human Resources set a $140,000 salary for Bell. Strach, whose last day on the job is May 31, was being paid $110,762 annually.
“I thought [she] was horribly underpaid, and she has been for some time,” Board Chairman Bob Cordle, a Democrat, said of Strach’s compensation. He had directed Josh Lawson, board general counsel, to investigate the salary, and recommended Bell be paid $135,000.
Lawson said Strach’s job was wrongly classified as a nonexempt position, and the job description failed to capture all of the job functions or leadership requirements. The Office of State Human Resources has since corrected those mistakes. The board didn’t respond to a Carolina Journal query whether the classification errors entitled Strach to any back pay.
Republican board member David Black noted that the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections executive director is paid $137,000 annually, and the state board’s executive director should collect more.
Bell, of Charleston, South Carolina, was named May 13 to replace Strach. The shakeup instantly drew protests from Republicans and Democrats alike, and was roundly criticized as a partisan move. Strach was widely perceived as competent, evenhanded, and impartial.
WRAL-TV confirmed Gov. Roy Cooper’s political team helped to line up Bell for the position. It reported Cooper political strategist Morgan Jackson solicited a recommendation from former Elections Board executive director Gary Bartlett, a Democratic appointee. Bartlett pushed for Bell, who is deputy director of the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center, an elections reform advocacy group where Bartlett is director.
The board named Katelyn Love to serve as acting general counsel to replace Lawson. He tendered his resignation shortly after Strach was fired. As deputy general counsel, Love has supervised two board attorneys.