As previously indicated in this space, the controversy over selection of new election machinery for the August and November rounds of voting in Shelby County has involved potential conflict-of-interest issues.
One such issue involved the fact that John Ryder, attorney for the Election Commission,
shares office space in Nashville with the lobbying firm MNA Government Relations, headed by his longtime friend Wendell Moore, who represents ES&S, a major election-machinery vendor. (The voting machines currently in use in Shelby County are ES&S manufactures, and a majority of the Election Commission voted last Thursday night to award the company a contract for the new machines to be purchased this year.)
Ryder responded that his law firm, Harris-Shelton, is merely a tenant of MNA and, beyond that rental arrangement, has no direct working relationship with MNA. He said further that he had no involvement with the Election Commission’s decision process on vendors of new machines and did not even know at that point which vendors had bid on an RFP (request for proposal) sent out by Election Administrator Linda Phillips.
The other conflict-of-interest question continues to develop and concerns Administrator Phillips herself.
The first revelation regarding Phillips had to do with the fact that a contract for new voter-registration software approved by her office in 2017, a year after she began her work in Shelby County, was awarded to Everyone Counts, the firm she had worked for in Indiana before taking the Shelby County job. There is no evidence that she disclosed that relationship to the Election Commission, and then-Commissioner Norma Lester is adamant that Phillips did not disclose either that fact or the further one that Phillips had a son then working for Everyone Counts.
Asked about this, EC public relations consultant Suzanne Thompson, passed on the following explanation: “For the purchase of the VR equipment, a scoring machine [sic] made up from county IT reps and the Election commission. Each ranked the equipment …. She [Phillips] didn't make a recommendation for the Voter's Registration System because it was all up to the folks in Purchasing.” That Election Commission itself, as Lester indicates, seems not to have been asked to make a judgment about the contract.
Previous to the purchase, Phillips had inquired of Marcy Ingram, then ethics officer in the Shelby County Attorney’s office, whether she had a duty to disclose her previous relationship with Everyone Counts or the fact of her son’s employment with the company.
On the first matter, Ingram responded, “As you are involved in the evaluation of the proposals, you should disclose this former employment relationship to the other evaluators to avoid an appearance of impropriety.” On the second, she advised, “[A}s you are involved in the evaluation of the proposals, you should disclose this familial relationship to the other evaluators prior to exercising any discretion in the matter to avoid an appearance of impropriety.”
In her request to Ingram for an ethics ruling, Phillips had said, “I’m not going to be making the final decision on what to purchase; that will be the Election Commission decision to recommend the vendor.”
[Our italics] As indicated, there is no record of any such recommendation from the Election Commission.
After the software contract was awarded to Everyone Counts, that company experienced financial difficulties and was purchased by Votem, which in its turn sold the Shelby County voter-registration contract to KnowInk. Records show that both of Phillips’ sons, Andrew and Chris, were employed by Everyone Counts when the contract was let, and son Chris was employed successively with both Votem and KnowInk, as each obtained the voter-registration contract. [See below.]
See related PDF
In maintenance of the contract, the county still pays an annual fee to KnowInk, as it did to Votem. In April 2018, in apparent anticipation that the voter-registration contract would be made over to KnowInk in 2019, Administrator Phillips had purchased KnowInk e-poll books for $175,000 on a sole-source contract.
About the sons’ employment history, PR consultant Thompson had this to say:
“At the time the VR equipment was purchased, one of her two sons was working for KnowInc.
"The other son worked for the ES&S. He's no longer employed there. He left the company some time ago. The selection the company used to provide software for the voting equipment we currently use was made years ago., long before Linda came to Shelby County. I don't know this for sure, but that son was probably still in college when that long-gone group of commissioners made the decision on the software for the voting machines we currently use.”
For the sake of clarity a fuller version of the communication from Thompson, relating as it does to matters of public information, is appended below. Deleted from her statement are personal remarks and a discussion of another matter unrelated to the immediate one of public contracts.
The current process of purchasing voting machines, as you know, the Commissioners decide which company to select. Linda makes the recommendation. We don't even know what they will decide - it's up to them. Her son works for KnowInc., as a desk tech - a low level position. The company he works for has nothing to do with the voting equipment or software….
The county's system for the purchase of Voter's Registration equipment was quite different from the process currently underway. All the decisions go through purchasing. At the time the VR equipment was purchased, one of her two sons was working for KnowInc.
The other son worked for the ES&S. He's no longer employed there. He left the company some time ago. The selection the company used to provide software for the voting equipment we currently use was made year's ago., long before Linda came to Shelby County. I don't know this for sure, but that son was probably still in college when that long-gone group of commissioners made the decision on the software for the voting machines we currently use.
This is all laid out in the attached e-mail. The attachment is a memo that came from the Ethics officer for the Shelby County Attorney, Marcy Ingram, which pre-dates the issuance of the RFP for the Voters Registration system. For the purchase of the VR equipment a scoring machine made up from county IT reps and the Election commission Each ranked the equipment. Each member rated the system independently. That's about the only similarity in the two system' purchase - a scoring team.
She didn't make a recommendation for the Voter's Registration System because it was all up to the folks in Purchasing.
I thought it was probably best to sit down and write this out for clarity's sake….