The Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday put off for another day a full discussion of whether to separate elections from the job description of County Assessor-Recorder-Clerk and Registrar of Voters John Tuteur.
Supervisors agreed to take it up again in a study session later this year. Tuteur won re-election in 2010, and will be up for election again in 2014.
Board Chairman Brad Wagenknecht had pushed the idea of shaking up how the elections process in Napa County is managed after many residents voiced displeasure at having to wait three weeks to learn the final results of the November 2012 elections.
“There was concern in the fall,” Wagenknecht said. “That got me thinking about what we could do.”
The board could decide to split up Assessor, Recorder, Clerk and Registrar of Voters into multiple positions and keep them subject to voter approval. Or it could make registrar of voters an appointed position, and make the Elections Division a new, separate department, or funnel it into an existing county department.
Creating a new management position in the county would be more expensive. Staff analyzed the cost in 2009, and determined it would cost the county an additional $115,000 to pay for the new registrar. It hasn’t updated that analysis to determine what the cost would be in 2013.
Supervisor Diane Dillon expressed interest in having the board appoint the registrar, which safeguards the county from having an unqualified person win election and hold the job.
“Mr. Tuteur is so exemplary in his ability that it kind of overshadows the fact that anybody could run for office and be elected,” Dillon said. “I would rather see us have that capability. It’s about the principle of having the ability to hire the best and the brightest.”
Supervisor Bill Dodd said he wanted to see the Elections Division increase its speed in counting ballots while still maintaining the accuracy and integrity of the counting process.
“It’s maddening, not just for the candidates but for the people as well,” Dodd said. “I would like to see John do this. Faster — and accurate. I don’t look at them as mutually exclusive.”
Supervisor Mark Luce said having the board appoint the registrar could lead the public to be concerned that the supervisors are exerting political influence on the elections process.
“If people don’t like John they get to vote him out of office,” Luce said. “I’m not sure the grass is really greener in this case.”
Supervisor Keith Caldwell said he didn’t want to create a new department or a new management position and have the county’s budget incur those costs.
Wagenknecht said he wanted to at least see updated counts released between Election Night and when the final vote is certified. He cited the mayoral and City Council races in Calistoga last November. Those races were separated by seven to 25 votes at the end of election night.
“The issue was, it was a very close race,” Wagenknecht said. “It would have been nice to have at least gotten an update. It gives you a sense of where you’re going.”
Tuteur said he was anticipating discussing the issue in more depth during the study session.
“I’m very available to go over that with you,” Tuteur said. “We’ll talk. I think that would be a good exercise.”