LONE STAR NEWS GROUP
Former Parker County Assistant elections administrator Laura Watkins, who sought, but was not appointed to the post of Parker County Elections Administrator after Robert Parten retired, began work Monday as assistant elections administrator for Palo Pinto County, Palo Pinto County Elections Administrator Judith Evans confirmed.
Watkins, who served as interim elections administrator after Parten retired in May, quit her post in Parker County June 30, the start date for new elections administrator Don Markum, a former coach and private school sports league director.
Watkins had worked as assistant elections administrator in Parker County since 2008. Before that she worked as an elections administrator and clerk for the Palo Pinto County Clerk's Office.
Watkins sought the appointment of Paker County's elections administrator after Parten's retirement. Despite her years of experience running elections, county officials wanted Markum, a move that was marked with some controversy and questions about the selection process.
Parker County commissioners on Monday voted 3-1 to fill the vacancy there early, also approving an extra $3,700 or so to fund the position for five weeks. The money will come from the elections office budget first, according to Precinct 3 Commissioner Larry Walden’s motion, then from the non-departmental budget if the elections office budget is insufficient.
Precinct 1 Commissioner George Conley voted against the motion, saying afterward that he opposed taking the money from non-departmental.
“He [Markum] should take it out of his own budget no matter what,” he said.
Typically, when a county employee quits, Markum said, a department stays within its budget by delaying his or her replacement.
“Laura’s vacation pay, sick leave and compensation came to $6,574,” Markum said later. “Usually [the county] waits until an employee’s money runs out [before hiring someone], which would have been around Sept. 2. But I didn’t want to wait that long.
“That position is the most important one in the office. They act as office supervisor. She did the ballot styles for Hart InterCivic. She did the Central Count. I want to make sure that everyone is properly trained before the election.”
The job has been posted since mid-July, Markum said, and will go off-line Wednesday. He plans to conduct interviews next week and hire someone by July 28.