How much would a presidential election recount cost Shiawassee County taxpayers? How would the ballots be kept securely? And how would Shiawassee County clerks and poll workers be able to handle the task of hand-counting all of them?
All were important, reasonable questions to ask in the days leading up to the planned recount at Perry Township Hall Thursday. But none were answered by the county’s lame-duck clerk, Lauri Braid.
For 10 days leading up to Thursday, I was repeatedly told by area clerks that when it came to organizing the recount, the ball was in Braid’s court. Until they got word from Braid on what to do, they could only say so much about how it would go.
So, over the phone, I tried to talk to Braid, with whom I thought I had a cordial working relationship, as a reporter with The Argus-Press. And then I tried again. And again.
I was repeatedly told by office staff that she was busy and that they couldn’t answer the questions our readers needed to know without her OK.
I even dropped in to her office, where I saw her face-to-face. Briefly. She quickly retreated to her office and left me standing there, apparently too busy to speak with this correspondent for a few minutes about the issue.
After that, I called her cellphone — a testament to the relationship she once had with our newspaper that we would have the number in the first place — using my cellphone. She answered the call, but gruffly told me she was too busy to talk. And then she hung up.
Another reporter here told me: “At least she said ‘bye.’”
People get busy, I understand that, but elected officials have an obligation to tell the public what they’re doing with their time — after all, taxpayers are footing the bill.
Usually, that means speaking with the media when they need to talk to you. And to ignore a reporter repeatedly, over the course of several days, raises some important issues — of accountability, trustworthiness and transparency in office.
By the end of this month, Braid will no longer be the county clerk. In the August primary election, Braid — who has been in the office since 2000 — faced a primary challenger for the first time in three election cycles, longtime Friend of the Court employee Caroline Wilson.
Before the primary, I sat down with both candidates for a news story about their accomplishments, their goals for the position and general reaction to what had become a testy campaign. Braid had no problem talking to me then.
Braid was soundly defeated by Wilson. Since then, it seems the lame duck has given the Argus-Press lame responses to our requests for comment on the recount and other issues. However, she did find time to give Ch. 12’s reporter an interview for its TV broadcast (“Election recount will keep county clerks busy,” Nov. 28).
I wonder why. Does Braid think The Argus-Press — which did not endorse either candidate — was imbalanced to favor Wilson in its coverage? Does she blame the paper for her loss?
If so, is that why she won’t speak with us about the recount? Or is there something else afoot, something frankly, more serious than a grudge, that you should be concerned about, like voter fraud?
I truly don’t think that is the case. But without answers to my questions, how can the public be sure?
I know most of you probably don’t care about my primary ballot, but at the time, I thought either Braid or Wilson would have done a fine job in the position.
Braid’s behavior since her loss leads me to believe that if an elected official does not want to speak with the media — regardless of how much longer they’re on the job — they should not be elected.
The good news is after speaking with Wilson at length since the election, I believe the clerk’s office will be more transparent come 2017. For your sake, as well as mine, I hope that prediction comes true.
Whether you agree with Donald Trump or Jill Stein about the necessity of it, the recount is a big story. If your county clerk’s office does not want to — or is not able to — answer questions about it, you have every right to wonder whether its staff can do the job.
This is your community newspaper. In many stories, like this one, the newsroom can only give to you what officials give to us.
If an official can’t take out a few minutes of the day to talk to us, it begs the question, how much time will they give you?