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Court clerk: Despite memo, staff not required to campaign

April 7, 2018

MOUNT AIRY, N.C. (AP) — The clerk of court in one North Carolina county said she never meant to require any of her employees to work for her re-election even though that’s what a leaked memo said.

After the memo was published, Surry County Clerk of Court Teresa O’Dell told the Mount Airy News that she doesn’t require staff to work for her campaign. She acknowledged that the memo “seemed to indicate otherwise” and sent a follow-up note.

“This job allows you to care for your family and give them the things they need,” the first memo, sent March 27th, read. “I’ve been good to all of you in some way. Now, I asking you to get excited, to get on board and make this happen for me. This is our first campaign together as Democrats and Republicans. Communicate with me daily, help me raise some money and follow up with voters. ”

The memo said employees would be required to campaign for her, including taking vacation time so they weren’t doing political work while on the clock. “You will be required to stand at the polls on May 8th for half day. Vacation leave will (be) taken.” was the second item on the list. The third item said staffers were required to attend a Republican form at a church.

She also wrote that she would ask staffer “to go out with me on Saturdays or during the week to speak to people you know. You will take vacation leave.”

She also told staffers that she wouldn’t be in the office much before the primary. “I will not be in the office very often in the next 35 days. I am hitting the campaign trail hard,” she wrote.

Her clarifying letter to the clerk of court staff stated that she regretted “that there was some misunderstanding about the memo dated March 27, 2018. There is not and never will be a requirement to work on my campaign in order to be a member of the Clerk of Court staff. Unfortunately, the memo implied seemed to indicate otherwise.”

O’Dell is facing a challenge from Neil Brendle in the May 8 Republican primary.

It’s unclear whether the original memo violated state election law.

A memo sent in February from the Administrative Office of the Courts told clerks that “you may not use your official position to coerce or influence other employees for political purposes.”

But under state law as the North Carolina appellate courts have interpreted it, O’Dell may be within her rights, the News & Record of Greensboro reported.

“What it all comes down to, I believe, it means that the clerk of court can demand partisan loyalty from his or her assistant clerks and deputy clerks,” said UNC School of Government professor Robert P. Joyce, an expert in the field and a former attorney in private practice.

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Information from: Mount Airy News, http://www.mtairynews.com

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