Elections Officials Peaks Out About Serving On Company’s Advisory Board
Luzerne County elections director Marisa Crispell says she did nothing wrong by serving on the advisory board of county vendor Election Systems and Software and traveling to Las Vegas for a meeting at the company’s expense last year.
Members of county council, which voted in April to purchase an electronic poll book system from ES&S for $324,802, are not so sure.
Crispell on Wednesday said that an official of ES&S, which supplied the voting machines the county has used for more than 10 years, approached her early last year about joining the company’s customer advisory board. An ES&S media representative described the advisory board as “an unpaid group that gathers to provide feedback on voter and poll worker experiences.”
“The feedback we provided will help (ES&S) customers from throughout the country,” Crispell said, during an interview in which she at times grew emotional as she described the services her office offers to the public.
Crispell said she cleared it with her supervisor, county Director of Administrative Services David Parsnik, and elections board solicitor Michael Butera before she accepted a spot on the advisory board.
Butera confirmed that he told Crispell he did not see a conflict in her service on the advisory board, or with ES&S paying her expenses to travel to meetings in Las Vegas and Nebraska.
Advisory board members receive no financial compensation apart from travel expenses, Crispell and Butera said. Crispell said it never occurred to her that letting ES&S pay her travel expenses could be seen as a conflict of interest.
“I would not have agreed to go on the county’s dollar,” she said.
Crispell said she resigned from the ES&S advisory board in October 2017 to avoid the appearance of a conflict. The county planned to seek requests for proposals for an electronic poll book system and she knew ES&S might submit a proposal, she said.
Five vendors submitted proposals for the poll books, according to Crispell. A committee consisting of county election board members, county officials, third-party representative Carl Romanelli and herself selected the proposal ES&S submitted as the best of the five, Crispell said.
Company representatives demonstrated the poll book system at a county council meeting in March. Council voted to purchase the system on April 24.
Crispell said she did not disclose her service on the ES&S advisory board to county council before it voted on the poll books. She said she did not see that as an issue, since she resigned from the advisory board before the county requested proposals from vendors.
Council members reached Wednesday did not agree.
“I was not aware of that at any point in time,” said council Chairman Tim McGinley. “I didn’t know there was an advisory board.”
McGinley said Crispell’s apparent close ties with ES&S constituted at least an “apparent potential conflict.”
It would have been “a better decision” for Crispell to decline the spot on the advisory board, he said.
“If I would have known, I probably would have had a lot of questions,” McGinley said. “I would not have voted till I was satisfied they were answered.”
Council Vice Chairman Eugene Kelleher said he was shocked to hear about Crispell’s service on the ES&S advisory board. Appearances matter, he said.
“It’s alarming,” Kelleher said. “Perception is reality, whether something is done legitimately or not.”
Kelleher said Crispell should not have joined the advisory board of a county vendor.
”That was a poor decision on her part,” he said. “When I see her I am going to tell her that.”
Councilwoman Jane Walsh Waitkus said Crispell should have disclosed her connection with ES&S before council voted on the poll books.
“I personally am very grateful when people disclose everything,” Walsh Waitkus said. “I am not accusing her of wrongdoing ... but the more information I have the better.”
Councilwoman Sheila Saidman said Crispell should have informed council of her service on the advisory board last year, whether or not ES&S submitted a proposal for the poll book system.
“You have to be very careful about these things as far as I am concerned,” Saidman said. “The more transparency the better.”
ES&S is one of several potential vendors for new voting machines the county plans to purchase next year, according to Crispell. The new machines will provide a “paper trail” for added voter security, to comply with a state mandate.
Parsnik did not return a message seeking comment.
County Manager David Pedri said the county will conduct an internal review. He said he could not comment further as it is a personnel matter.
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