Supervisors split on new elections chief
A politically split Nevada County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Monday to hire former Supervisor Fran Freedle to fill the remaining 2 1/2 years of outgoing Clerk-Recorder Lorraine Jewett-Burdick’s term.
Supervisors Peter Van Zant and Barbara Green cast the dissenting votes, saying the appointment of Freedle was a politically charged one for a nonpartisan position responsible for upholding exacting rules governing elections and the filing of public documents. Freedle often sided with conservatives during her tenure as District 3 representative from 1994 to 1999.
Supervisors met in open session to interview seven candidates selected by county and Elections Office staff. The list was culled from a pool of dozens of candidates for the position. Four of the seven candidates live in Nevada County, and three of them are current county employees. The appointment takes effect July 1.
After hearing responses to a variety of questions, each supervisor recommended his or her first and second choices.
While many of the candidates talked about their adherence to federal and state guidelines and pledged to implement the federal Help America Vote Act – which mandates replacing punch cards with electronic voting devices and increases Americans with Disabilities Act access to disabled voters by 2006 – supervisors spent the most critical part of the interviews debating the political merits of the position.
Supervisors Robin Sutherland, Sue Horne and Drew Bedwell picked Freedle as their top choice for the clerk-recorder’s spot. Green and Van Zant gave the highest marks to Joy Massey, the county’s assistant clerk-recorder since 2002 and an eight-year employee of the office.
Van Zant and Green criticized the naming of Freedle to the office since her name was not one initially forwarded to supervisors for inclusion on a short list of candidates, but was added later.
Green also questioned a letter from U.S. Rep. John Doolittle, a Republican, endorsing Freedle to replace Jewett-Burdick.
“Almost all the candidates said that position has to be neutral,” Van Zant said. “I can tell you (now) that a lot of people will see that position as political.”
Green said Freedle’s political views could compromise her nonpartisan duties.
“The neutrality of the position is so important to this county,” she said.
Freedle, the first of the seven candidates to be interviewed, never mentioned her work as a supervisor in interviewing for the job, opting to highlight her 22 years as a small-business owner, community volunteer and a trained poll worker.
“My strength … is that I am a very detailed person and that I also am a stickler for treating everyone with fairness and parity.”
Since leaving elective office, Freedle has worked to open a nursery for young infants and children in crisis, a facility she hopes to open by summer’s end. In selecting Freedle for the post, Horne, who has known the new clerk-recorder for more than a decade, pointed to Freedle’s even-handed approach to the job.
“I do not hesitate (in saying) that Fran would be nothing but aboveboard in her duties,” Horne said.
After selecting Freedle, Horne stood by her decision.
“I don’t think anyone would disagree that Fran is a hard-working individual. She has made it very clear that she is bound by law, not politics, that she will carry out the role in a fair and equitable manner,” Horne said after the meeting.
After her selection, Freedle said she simply wants to work hard for the people of Nevada County.
“I don’t think it’s political; I think it was a choice of someone who will do well for this county,” she said.
Freedle said she believes the office runs well, and she’s intent on introducing new voters to the process while keeping files of the recorder’s office secure.
To her critics, Freedle said simply: “Come and watch. I’m very committed to making this as open and as fair as possible.”
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