Complaint filed against Davidson Co. Election Administrator over - WBRC FOX6 News - Birmingham, AL

Complaint filed against Davidson Co. Election Administrator over alleged racial comment

(WSMV file photo) (WSMV file photo)

One of Davidson County’s top election officials was the subject of an internal investigation after he was accused of making an inappropriate racial comment.

The Channel 4 I-Team confirmed that an employee of the Davidson County Election Commission filed a complaint against administrator Jeff Roberts in November.

That complaint, filed under a new “speak up” policy, prompted an investigation conducted by the commission’s chairman, Jim DeLanis.

Roberts was hired in June 2016, after his predecessor, Kent Wall, retired.

Wall was the subject of an I-Team investigation that looked at purchases he was making on a Metro-issued credit card using taxpayer dollars.

When the I-Team started asking questions during an interview, Wall’s boss, former chairman Ron Buchanan, made an inappropriate comment. He resigned three days later.

Now Roberts is facing accusations about inappropriate comments he allegedly made.

Through an open records request, the I-Team obtained a copy of the original complaint and DeLanis’ final report to commissioners sent last week.

The employee, who is African American, filed the complaint over what she calls an “inappropriate racial conversation.”

The document states the employee went into Robert’s office in September 2016 and made a comment about his coffee mug that resembled a monkey.

She wrote, “His comment to me was that when he looks at it, he thinks of me.”

But when asked, Roberts said he didn’t remember ever saying that.

“I don’t remember saying what the employee thought was said,” Roberts said in an interview with the I-Team.

“Why would she say this if this never happened?” asked reporter Alanna Autler.

“I just think from my perspective and the way I’ve been reading it, during the month of September, October, our nation, it was a very contentious period. People heard things that you know, the way people said them, how they stood, whatever, and it had the potential to offend folks,” Roberts said.

“So are you blaming the political climate at the time on this employee’s complaint?” Autler asked.

“No, I’m just saying that could have contributed to it,” Roberts said. “The employee’s complaint is something that needs to be treated very seriously.”

Chairman DeLanis started looking into the matter the day the complaint was filed, and even consulted Metro Human Resources.

A memo to the rest of the commission states that Roberts eventually apologized to the employee, who seemed satisfied.

But it was not the first time Roberts allegedly made a comment about monkeys.

In July, Roberts sent an email to the commission’s executive staff, which linked to a news story about monkeys raiding a polling place in Thailand.

Roberts wrote: “This sounds worse than our issues around the 100’ boundary.”

“This was trying to reduce some of that anxiety going into November,” Roberts said.

Below the story, one comment read: “BLM = Behaving Like Monkeys.”

BLM is an acronym for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Another commenter wrote: “The obamas on vacation!”

“Do you think it’s appropriate to send content with these kinds of comments to an office, particularly for Metro government?” Autler asked.

“I didn’t send the content, I sent the website,” Roberts said.

“And this was on the website,” Autler said.

“And the website is not an offbeat, we’re talking about a national news organization,” Roberts said.

Overall, DeLanis said the commission’s new “speak up” policy worked. Passed last year, the policy was intended to make employees more comfortable with filing complaints against supervisors.

Before then, there was no formal mechanism to file such complaints within the commission.

“Last year Mr. Buchanan made a comment to our crew. Now we have a complaint from a woman who filed a racial discrimination complaint. Is there a problem with how officials in your office treat women?” asked Autler.

“I don’t think you can relate that,” DeLanis said. “Mr. Buchanan made an ill-considered comment and it was inappropriate and I can’t defend that. But that has nothing to do with the inner workings of the staff and our new administrator of elections.”

DeLanis said he believes both the employee and Roberts, making it hard to draw conclusions.

“Even isolated, is it ever appropriate to make a reference, to compare a black employee to a monkey?” Autler asked.

“We don’t know that’s what happened,” DeLanis said. “We know that she made a reference to a cup.”

Ludye Wallace, the president of Nashville’s NAACP, said he also doesn’t know exactly what happened. But after reviewing the documents involved in the investigation, he shared what he does know.

“When you’re in these positions, high positions, and especially with the government, you should be more sensitive,” Wallace said. “It’s the kind of thing that should not happen.”

Roberts said even though he doesn’t remember making the comment, he apologized.

“Why let it linger?” he said in an interview with the I-Team.

The employee who filed the complaint said she has no comment.

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