Starke County Clerk Bernadette Welter-Manuel is trying to establish some ground rules with the rest of the county election board. During a contentious meeting last week, Welter-Manuel read from a prepared statement outlining a list of concerns. “One, I will only be attending properly posted public election board meetings going forward,” she said. “With this being said, I won’t take any action on anything that comes out of any other said meetings. I will not be answering anymore to where my clerks are at any meetings or events. They are my employees, my sole decision to have them or not. The budget that I give to run my office does not need approval or a vote from this board.”
The clerk also said that she should be board members’ first point of contact for election board issues, with her first deputy being next in the chain of command if she isn’t available. Welter-Manuel also prohibited board members from calling her staff after-hours, which drew complaints from board members Harrison Fields and Peg Brettin.
“I have never called anyone after-hours,” Fields said. “I don’t think I’ve called anyone here during hours.”
Brettin said, “I’m sure that it’s a jab at me because I attempted to contact Colleen regarding a piece of information, and it was after-hours. However, maybe the piece of information that I was trying to contact her for had nothing to do with this office. Interesting.”
Fields went on to say that he was irritated by the way Welter-Manuel handled her concerns, saying that she should have discussed them privately with the individual board members. “Communication, again,” Fields said. “That’s all I keep hearing. You’ve been in this office three months. I’ve made more phone calls to Indianapolis in three months than I have since I’ve been on this board, and it just irritates me on and on and on.” He then raised a couple of concerns of his own, including late paychecks for early voting workers and the fact that Welter-Manuel apparently isn’t keeping the election board meeting minutes herself but has delegated the responsibility to the election clerk.
Meanwhile, Welter-Manuel named her first deputy as her proxy on the election board but said that she has instructed her to consult with two other staff members before voting on any issues. Fields and Brettin questioned whether such an arrangement was proper.