Fellow BOE member Houston Groome: ‘You are not a team player. You’re a Bill Stone player’
Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a two-part article. Part 1 can be read here.
LENOIR, N.C. – As reported on Oct. 31 on this site, Bill Stone, the chairman of the Caldwell County Board of Elections (BOE), has had at least three complaints filed against him with officials in Raleigh regarding allegations of wrongdoing during Early Voting in Lenoir.
This is nothing new. The North Carolina Republican Party has done everything in its power since taking over the North Carolina General Assembly in 2011 to subvert voting rights of minorities, the poor and vulnerable in North Carolina. They’ve largely succeeded – despite the many court rulings against them – because of people like Bill Stone.
For instance, at the Caldwell BOE meeting on Oct. 30, Stone would not allow questions from the public because public input was not on the agenda. Fortunately, Stone is not the only member of the board. In addition to Stone, there are three other members of the BOE – Vice-chairman Fred Piercy, Secretary Houston Groome and member Pete McIlwain. Like Stone, McIlwain is a Republican. Piercy and Groome are Democrats.
In any event, Groome put forward a motion that in future meetings, time for public input be allowed. Groome looked at McIlwain and asked, “You’ll second that won’t you Pete?” McIlwain did. Stone said he didn’t like the idea, saying, “These comments always get personal. I don’t want that.”
Bill, you’re not a team player. You are a Bill Stone player.” – Houston Groome, Caldwell County BOE Secretary.
Groome replied, “Bill, the only ones that are personal are directed at you. You’re a lightning rod for controversy. You need to stay out of the parking lot.” Groome referenced an incident the previous week, when voters were complaining about aggressive behavior by volunteers for campaigns. Director of Elections Sandra Rich asked all four board members to go out together to talk to all the volunteers. As Groome noted, “Bill, the three of us could not get out of our chairs before you were outside saying whatever you were saying to them.”
Groome added, “Bill, you’re not a team player. You are a Bill Stone player.”
Groome also noted that when he had previously served on the board, public comment was part of the agenda. He said, “They can say anything they want about any item on the agenda or anything about voting. That’s why we’re here.” Piercy also called for adding a public comment period, saying, “We serve the public.”
Ultimately, a public comment period was added to future BOE meetings on a voice vote. Director of Elections Sandra Rich said after the meeting, “In the past, anyone could come to the meetings and be allowed to speak. But since the board has changed, that ended.”
The way I see it, I want all board members to represent all of the people and do their job. They need to cooperate, and I don’t see that with Bill. They need to work as one, not against each other.” – Caldwell BOE Director of Elections Sandra Rich
Groome and Piercy also cautioned Stone about appearing to favor Republicans. They asked Stone to not roam around the parking lot during early voting, as his time speaking with Republican Party candidates and workers calls into question his impartiality. Instead, as reported in the first story, when others at the table reminded Stone that he represented the BOE and hence had to be impartial, Stone replied, “I am going to represent myself.”
When asked about the complaint leveled against him by Michael Careccia, Stone seemingly underscored the concerns expressed by Groome and Piercy. Stone refused to answer, but did turn to McIlwain and say, “This is politics. We need to take this up with the (Republican) executive committee.” Immediately thereafter, though the meeting was not in recess, Stone and McIlwain retired to Rich’s office for a sidebar conversation.
So, during a meeting intended to have impartial discussions about voting rights, Stone was doing political calculus rather than heeding the calls of his BOE colleagues to hear from those complaining against him.
Rich finds Stone’s behavior disturbing. “As a board, when they come in that door, they are to leave the party at the door and serve all of the voters of the county.”
Indeed, Rich, who during her many years as the Director of Elections would never comment publicly or privately on board members, said she could remain silent no longer about Bill Stone. “The way I see it, I want all board members to represent all of the people and do their job. They need to cooperate, and I don’t see that with Bill. They need to work as one, not against each other.”
Rich is right. We can do better. The people serving on the Board of Elections are supposed to be advocates for voters. Bill Stone, ironically, is actively working to discourage voting. Because the Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly has mangled election laws so badly, the future of local boards of elections is unclear. Hell, everything about North Carolina’s future elections is unclear thanks to the intentional undermining of our democratic processes by the North Carolina GOP.
What is clear however is this – it’s time for Bill Stone to go. Our voters deserve someone that believes in our Republic rather than actively works to subvert it.