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CC Election Commission files lawsuit against County Mayor

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The Chester County Election Commission filed a lawsuit against Chester County Mayor Barry Hutcherson in Chester County Circuit Court yesterday for his failure to sign a construction contract for the proposed Election Commission building.
According to the suit, the Election Commission has struggled with inadequate space for the safe and secure storage of the county’s voting equipment, dating back to 2019 when new voting machines were purchased.
Hutcherson met with the Election Commission Feb. 1, 2020, and visited the basement work area at the Public Safety Building where the machines were being stored. New shelving was being installed at that time. Six days later the Election Commission emailed Hutcherson that a water leak elsewhere in the building was spilling into the new storage area and that nothing was done.
Water and mold issues continued through the 2020 election cycle in the Public Safety Building, endangering the functionality of the equipment and the health and safety of Election Commission employees.
Election Commission Stephen Morris and Hutcherson continued discussion to explore the acquisition and retrofitting of an abandoned bank branch building for office and storage space among other options. Hutcherson agreed to none of them.
The suit continues that on Nov. 1, 2021, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security delivered an audit of the Election Commission facilities. They commended the Election Commission for its efforts to obtain “outside assistance and guidance to improve the security of Chester County Elections.” The audit noted numerous security deficiencies in the Public Safety Building facility, including insecure vote counting areas, inadequate storage areas and significant physical issues.
Following this report, Election Administrator Kathy Vest made a presentation to the Chester County commission outlining the DHS report. The Commissioners agreed to work on identifying possible locations. On October 2022, Chairman Morris addressed the county governmental affairs committee, and they voted 5-0 to recommend to the full county commission that the county should appropriate $1.3 million in ARPA funding to build a new facility.
On Nov. 14, 2022, the full commission voted 11-5 to approve their recommendation. Mayor Hutcherson took no action to veto the November 14 resolution, according to the filing. Hutcherson then executed a contract with an architectural firm to design the new building that would sit on the site of the former Medical Building site. The contract was for $85,000 for architectural and design services. Demolition of the site began in December.
In January, Vest received approval to seek bids for the project. Throughout January, February and March, the Election Commission submitted invoices to Hutcherson for land surveying and design services associated with the new building. Hutcherson approved all these invoices. Following proper publication of bid notices, the commission agreed to offer local contractor E&T Contracting the bid on the new building for $1.3 million at its May 30, 2023, meeting. The mayor took no action at that time to veto the resolution.
On May 30, 2023, however, Mayor Hutcherson told representatives of E&T and the architectural firm that he would not execute the construction contract the County Commission approved. Then, on June 30, 2023, the County Commission held a specially called meeting. Mayor Hutcherson told the commission that he would not sign the contract, being the reason, this lawsuit was filed.
Citing Tennessee law §5-6-107(a)(1), which states that a county mayor has the power to veto with respect to resolutions of the county legislative body, “If a county mayor does not sign or veto a resolution, then within 10 days after the resolution is presented to the mayor, the resolution shall become effective without the county mayor’s signature upon the expiration of the 10-day period according to Tennessee Code Annotated §5-6-107(b)(5).
The lawsuit only seeks to have the contract with E&T executed so that construction can begin. According to the Chester County Circuit Court Clerk’s office a date for a hearing has not yet been scheduled.
At Monday night’s budget committee meeting, the committee approved rescinding the $1.3 million that was originally approved for the cost of the building. It is now up to the judge to determine what the next action will be.

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