Correction at 11:45 pm on June 22, 2022: The name of Gordon Hikel, assistant Dallas County administrator, has been corrected in this story.
The Dallas County Elections Commission warned its top official on Wednesday to respond quickly to pay and poll station concerns among southern Dallas residents after a lengthy closed-door session about his employment.
Commissioners met Wednesday in executive session for an hour and 45 minutes to discuss Elections Administrator Michael Scarpello’s performance. Commission Vice Chair John Warren told the public afterward that no decision was reached about Scarpello’s future but added that he has many concerns.
“I’m disheartened by what I hear in regards to payroll concerns, and what I’m hearing is a disparity between the north and the south,” Warren said after public comments. “We may not want to admit it, but there seems to be – based on the communication we are hearing – that there is not equal treatment across the board.”
Some poll workers told the commission they hadn’t been paid in more than 30 days. Others received checks back-dated too far to cash.
During the public comment period of the meeting, speakers were divided over Scarpello’s performance. All of them worked or volunteered with the elections department.
Those who worked in the north mostly supported Scarpello’s work, saying he improved the election process for poll workers through organization, transparency and a useful handbook. Those from the southern parts of the county said there were staffing shortages, high expectations of poll judges to “haul” a lot of election equipment and a lack of communication from the central election office.
“I am quite impressed that he has time to visit one side of town — the north side of town — and if you could just do a fourth of that for us on the south side, I would be impressed,” said Diana Jackson, a poll worker from southern Dallas County.
Warren told Scarpello there are expectations for across-the-board changes and full transparency in the future. The election commission — composed of leaders of the Democrat and Republican parties, County Judge Clay Jenkins, Tax Assessor-Collector John Ames, Warren and Scarpello — has the power to hire and fire the administrator.
Scarpello took notes during the public comment period of the meeting and responded.
“I hear your feedback, and we take that feedback very seriously,” he said.
He noted that poll worker contact information is not always complete and said it has been difficult to navigate county payroll.
Assistant county administrator Gordon Hikel said the county is working to streamline the pay concerns. “We have heard the frustration, rightly so, and we have heard the fear, rightly so,” Hikel said at the meeting.
Scarpello has also taken heat from Dallas County commissioners this week.
At the Tuesday county commissioners’ meeting, there was notable tension between Scarpello and elected officials.
The Commissioners Court passed on Scarpello’s plea to approve a contract on electronic pollbooks. These books allow election officials to review and maintain voter register information.
The $1.9 million contract would update the pollbooks and ensure ongoing support and updates until 2026. The next scheduled Commissioners Court meeting is Aug. 2, by which time, Scarpello said, the contract’s price could no longer be guaranteed.
“If we delay beyond today, we will lose favorable pricing,” Scarpello told the commissioners on Tuesday. “They are anxious to get these contracts completed.”
Commissioner John Wiley Price said he didn’t think that was true.
“I don’t understand why they won’t hold the pricing,” Price said. “Show me that in writing.”
When asked by Jenkins whether he was confident that he didn’t need anything beyond the contract, Scarpello said, “Yes, I am confident.”
“I understand that [the contractor] would like to get this contract signed immediately, because it is in their best interest. What’s in our best interest?” County Commissioner Theresa Daniel said.
Scarpello replied that the elections department staff was eager to get the poll books to poll workers, so it would be in the best interest of the county to act quickly.
Price said he wanted to hear from the contractor directly rather than rely on Scarpello. Jenkins recommended that, rather than rush to approve a contract commissioners are not on board with, he call a special session on Friday to approve the contract if needed. As of Wednesday afternoon, a special session has not yet been scheduled.
Scarpello joined Dallas County after decades in election work.
He helped pioneer Colorado’s mail voting system in Denver before moving to California. Colorado’s mail-in system has been celebrated by voting-rights activists and election security specialists.
In California, he worked at a voter registration company, Runbeck Election Services. Before that, he was the voter registrar in California’s San Bernardino County.
According to California media, Scarpello was forced out of that job after raising concerns about the county’s elections systems.