Bribery of an Election Director

This is from 1998 to 2004
Conviction and Prison time for that Official – Bill Culp.
Guilty Plea to Bribery charges for the Microvote Salesman – Ed O’Day.
Salesman still selling voting machines today, and is Vice President of United American Election Supply.
Insufficient Laws, North Carolina laws do not prohibit Ed O’Day from selling voting machines to the counties in NC, just from selling directly to the State of NC for a 10 year period.
Defective Machines – 400 of the Microvote DREs sold to Mecklenberg County were already known to be defective, were the source of a lawsuit between Microvote and the state of Pennsylvania. Pennsyvania refused to buy the machines, or at least not all that Microvote tried to sell them, and Microvote sued. Microvote lost the suit. The machines malfunctioned after North Carolina bought them (some were sold to Indiana too). But since our election director was taking bribes, he couldn’t say much.

Meet Ed O’Day, Voting Machine Salesman Extraordinaire:

He bribed a North Carolina County Election Director, entered a guilty
pleas for bribes in 1998, and in 2004 he is sponsoring a hospitality room for Georgia State
Election Officials!
That should be of great concern to voting activists.
Wouldn’t a clean criminal background be important for Executives that influence
State Election Officials?

1. This all came to a head in 1998:

A voting machine salesman and repairman admitted earlier this week that
they gave Culp more than $134,000 since 1990 in bribes and kickbacks as
rewards for county business. Ed O’Day, 63, of Columbia, S.C., and Gene
Barnes, 64, of Stuarts Draft, Va., entered guilty pleas Tuesday.
They and Culp will be sentenced later this summer, the U.S. Attorney’s
Office said.
Culp pleaded guilty to accepting 122 bribes from O’Day and Barnes and
to three counts of mail fraud stemming from his operation of the Mecklenburg
Elections Tabulation Service, which provided news organizations with
unofficial election night results. He allegedly double-billed the county and
news outlets, pocketing $21,131 between December 1994, and January 1998.
O’Day is president of United American Election Supply Co. and was also
an independent sales representative for MicroVote of Indianapolis. He sold
Mecklenburg County more than $6 million in voting machines since 1994.
Barnes, who serviced the county’s voting machines for more than 30
years, raised his prices so Culp could get a kickback of $25 per machine
repaired, authorities alleged.

2. Ex-Meck official indicted (more on Culp)

Former Mecklenburg County Elections Supervisor Bill Culp was indicted by a federal grand jury July 7 on charges that he accepted more than $134,000 in kickbacks and bribes from a voting machine repairman and a salesman who won millions in county contracts. The indictment follows a six-month FBI investigation.

Federal sources say Culp and the two others charged — Ed O’Day, president of Columbia-based United American Election Supply Co. and Gene Barnes, a self-employed repairman from Stuarts Draft, Va. — will receive summonses and likely make their first court appearance this month. Culp retired in February as elections director after 28 years.

3. Voting machine sales a cutthroat business
Last modified at 1:41 p.m.
on Monday, March 16, 1998
The Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In the voting machine business, competition is tough and lawsuits not uncommon.
Supporters of former Mecklenburg County Director Bill Culp say he’s one of the victims of that cutthroat business.

Last week agents subpoenaed records involving the elections office,
Culp and vendors who sold the county voting machines and supplies.
The FBI wants all records of purchases, contracts and bids for the past five years.
It’s part of a grand jury inquiry that’s also seeking Culp’s personnel files, travel and business records.
That includes dealings with MicroVote Corp. and its former agent Ed O’Day,
who sold the county nearly $6 million in voting machines since 1994.
MicroVote officials say they’re cooperating with the FBI.
The Indianapolis company is one of a handful of leaders in the $50 million-a-year industry.
Other major players include Global Elections, ES&S, Danaher and Sequoia Pacific.

”It is a very different world … a very cutthroat business,” said Guilford County Elections Director George Gilbert.
”It seems like everybody has worked for everybody else in the business at one point … and this company is always suing that company.”
Culp has declined to comment on the investigation.

Such actions are common. So are lawsuits against competitors or former employees.

Last year, MicroVote sued its former national sales manager, Gary Greenhalgh of Vienna, Va.
MicroVote alleged he used company trade secrets to lure clients to competing businesses.
Greenhalgh, who says he’s done nothing wrong, has been in the middle of other controversies.

While working for MicroVote in 1990, he testified in a criminal investigation before a Memphis, Tenn., grand jury against another former employer in the industry.
And he once sued a Franklin, Tenn., elections official for slander after the man called him a liar.

”It seems like the employees of these vendors switch around.
Sometimes they’re bidding against each other and sometimes they’re teaming up,”
said Gary Bartlett, director of the N.C. Board of Elections.
”It heightens the competitiveness, and unfortunately, the viciousness.
Probably the most distressing thing I’ve witnessed is the vendors and some of the rumors that they spread.”
Salespeople say they routinely take public employees out for dinners, drinks and shows while seeking government contracts.
Some bring little gifts or trinkets.

At trade conferences, elections officials often dine courtesy of people who want their business.
In Mecklenburg’s case, Greenhalgh said he often picked up checks when he was out with Culp and his wife Deena.
At the time, Greenhalgh was MicroVote’s national sales director, seeking the county’s business.
Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
All Contents.©Copyright The Oak Ridger

4. The machines were defective, but Ed couldn’t say much, could he?
Publicly enthusiastic, Culp privately complained about the same defects that led to the chaos in Pennsylvania. “The obvious weakness in the scrolling mechanism concerns us,” he wrote to the company on May 13, 1996
archived story

The machines Ed O’Day sold to Culp were defective from the beginning, and were actually machines that
the State of Pennsylvania had tried and refused to buy after numerous serious problems with the machines.
Microvote v. Montgomery County, 942 F.Supp. 1046 (1996), 124 F.3d 187 (3d Cir. 1997).

5. Separate article in Wish TV – Ed O’Day is Executive of Voting Machine Company
I-Team: Tell us about Mecklenberg County, North Carolina, a federal investigation and federal indictments against the county’s election administrator and MicroVote salesman Ed O’Day. He was convicted of bribery and kickbacks made over a seven-year period, according to stories in the Charlotte Observer.

Ries Jr.: Ed O’Day was an independent agent of MicroVote – not a direct employee but a manufacturer’s representative for our product in North and South Carolina. He was convicted of bribing a public official, something we had no knowledge of, nor did we have any input.
Unfortunately he’s still out selling equipment to election officials, which surprised us all.

6. Ed O’Day is still selling voting machines:

United American Election Supply Company
447 Longtown Road West
Blythewood, SC 29016
Toll Free:

Sales Contact: Ed O’Day, Vice President
Technical Contact: Ed O’Day, Vice President
Description: United American Election Supply Company, supplies products to users of all types of voting systems including voting booths for paper punch card and DRE voting systems. We market the exclusive Pollmaster I and II voting booths, ABS ballot boxes, transfer cases, and supply boxes. We also sell all punch card ballots and supplies.
Election Experience: 30 years experience in election support

7. Ed O’Day is currently Vice President of “The National Association of Government Suppliers”

8. Looks like Ed O’Day is Popular with Georgia Election Officials,
furnished Hospitality Suite for this meeting in May 2004:

19th Georgia Election Officials Association
May 16-19, 2004
Held at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government
“Hospitality Suite provided by: United American Election Supply Co.
Ed O’Day, President
Do Georgia Election Officials know that they are rubbing elbows with a convicted briber?

The Bill Culp Elections Scandal and the County Commission

Charlotte Observer Articles – Titles

2000- Democrats give Culp back his “retiree medical”
July 99 – Culp goes to prison for taking Bribes and kickbacks
April 99 – County Commission agree to sue Culp
March 99 – Culp Sentenced
Aug 98 – County revokes Culp health insurance
July 98 – James proposes increased accounting controls because of Culp Scandal
July 98 – Culp abused his office (Carte Blanche article)
February 98 – Culp stops “consulting” contract with Elections office- blames James and Carter
January 98 – Culp retires from elections office one step ahead of the Federal Prosecutor (later this was shown to have allowed him to keep his pension and benefits though he stole from Mecklenburg County for 10 years)
December 97 – Carter says Culp should be fired. Questions surface regarding illegal activity
April 1997 – Culp uses elections office to promote liberal Democratic candidates

See below:

February 14, 2001 Section: METRO Edition: THREE Page: 1B
JEN PILLA, Staff Writer

Mecklenburg County commissioners agreed to reinstate health insurance benefits for former elections director Bill Culp, who admitted taking bribes and kickbacks while in office.

And the county will pay the lawyer’s fees Culp incurred to sue them.

Culp sued the county in May to make county commissioners restore the benefits, which they stripped from him a month after he pleaded guilty in July 1998 to taking more than $134,000 in bribes and kickbacks from voting machine company representatives.
County commissioners voted 6-3 Tuesday to accept Culp’s offer to settle the suit, which calls for them to restore his health benefits and pay his legal fees and expenses, which are estimated at about $10,000.

Commissioners chairman Parks Helms, who voted against taking away the benefits in 1998, said the county’s attorney told them they had only a 1-in-3 chance of success if the suit went to trial, which would likely be more costly.

Helms said he believes Culp, who was fined $50,000, ordered to pay restitution and sentenced to 30 months in jail, has been punished enough.

“I thought it was the fiscally responsible decision and I thought it was the right judgment ethically and morally,” Helms said.

But commissioner Bill James said he thought it was it a political payback for Culp, a prominent, longtime Democrat. James, along with Republicans Jim Puckett and Tom Cox, voted against the settlement. Ruth Samuelson was the only Republican to vote for it.

“It pays to have Democratic friends,” said James. “I am righteously indignant that this board would see fit to, in essence, cut a sweetheart deal for a high-ranking Mecklenburg County Democrat.

“It all depends on who you know.”

The county’s cost of medical insurance for retirees under age 65 is about $200 a month. The county pays the full amount for retirees with 20 years or more of service.

Culp retired in February 1998 after 28 years as elections director. Soon after, allegations against him came to light.

Culp was sentenced to 30 months in prison, but was released from a federal prison in September to enter a Charlotte halfway house. He will have served 20 months by the time of his scheduled release March 11. Authorities shaved off 10 months for good behavior and for undergoing drug treatment.

During his stay in prison, Culp was hospitalized twice, reportedly for a mild heart attack and a follow-up angioplasty to clear artery blockage. Commissioners said that was not a factor in their decision to restore health benefits.

Culp’s attorney, Lou Lesesne, said Culp was doing “pretty well” and would be relieved to have the case settled. He declined further comment.

The 1998 decision to take away Culp’s benefits was controversial, but commissioners voted 5-4 to institute a policy of cutting off benefits for retirees or former employees who commit financial crimes against the county. It applied retroactively to January 1998. James is the only commissioner who voted to take away the benefits who is still on the board.

Reach Jen Pilla at (704) 358-5025 or

Copyright (c) 2001 The Charlotte Observer

July 7, 1999 Section: METRO Edition: ONE – THREE Page: 1C
JIM MORRILL, Staff Writer

Former Mecklenburg County elections director Bill Culp checked into a federal prison near Durham on Tuesday, nearly a year after pleading guilty to taking bribes and kickbacks.

Culp, 55, reported to the prison at Butner shortly before noon to begin a 30-month sentence. He’ll stay in the prison’s minimum-security camp, where there are no walls or fences.

He donned a green uniform, began a weeklong orientation and spent his first night in a barracks-style dorm.
His arrival came a week before Mecklenburg commissioners are expected to vote on a settlement that calls for Culp and an accomplice to pay back nearly $160,000 the county says it lost.

That’s more than twice the $73,000 that U.S. District Judge Richard Voorhees ordered Culp and Columbia voting-machine salesman Ed O’Day to pay in restitution. County Manager Jerry Fox said the two could end up paying all cash or most in cash and financing the rest over 12 months.

Last July, Culp pleaded guilty to accepting more than $134,000 in bribes and kickbacks since 1990. Besides prison, he was ordered to pay a $50,000 fine.

O’Day and Gene Barnes, a voting machine repairman from Virginia, pleaded guilty to giving Culp bribes and kickbacks in exchange for county business. O’Day got two years’ supervised probation, six months of house arrest and a $5,000 fine. Barnes got two years’ supervised probation.

The FBI began investigating the three in early 1998, around the time Culp retired after 28 years as elections director. The probe uncovered the county’s biggest corruption scandal in decades. Prosecutors said the payoffs to Culp had been going on for at least seven years.

Culp, who first apologized a year ago, was still doing so last week.

“He came by to again apologize and express his deep regret at – as he put it – letting me down,” said commissioners Chairman Parks Helms, a Democrat and longtime Culp friend. “And I told him he was forgiven and that I hurt with him and for him. . . . I think he is experiencing the pain of his wrongdoing.”

Republican commissioner Bill James, a frequent critic of Culp, said he’s “never glad when anyone goes to jail. But I’m glad justice is finally being served.”

James said the restitution payments should head off a possible civil lawsuit against Culp for the salary he was paid over the years of his crimes.

“We could have done that, but I didn’t feel that this board was going to play hardball with a political friend,” said James. “What was important was to get back the bribes and kickbacks that were paid.”

Culp spent his last weekend of freedom in the N.C. mountains, hiking and biking. That life changed abruptly at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, when he surrendered himself at Butner, about 25 miles north of Durham.

Prison spokesman Don Eime said Culp started off by undergoing a standard intake screening process. That will be followed by a weeklong orientation designed to familiarize inmates with prison policies and programs.

Like every inmate, Culp will get a work assignment such as washing clothes, mowing the lawn or working in the mess hall. He’ll sleep in a bunk. He’ll share the concrete block dormitory with about 70 other men, mostly white-collar criminals.

Beside a bed, Culp’s personal space will consist of a plastic chair and a footlocker for personal items. He’ll have access to a track, basketball court and weight-lifting equipment. The prison has organized basketball and softball, as well as educational programs.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons assigned Culp to Butner, based in part on an evaluation of his crime and background.

Fox, the county manager, said he’s glad the wait for Culp to enter prison is finally over.

“For his good and the good of the community, the sooner he starts, the sooner he’s able to finish and get back into his own life,” Fox said.

Reach Jim Morrill at 358-5059 or morrill at .

Copyright (c) 1999 The Charlotte Observer

April 21, 1999 Section: METRO Edition: THREE Page: 1C

With former Mecklenburg County elections director Bill Culp sentenced to prison and ordered to pay restitution and fines for taking kickbacks, county commissioners talked behind closed doors Tuesday about whether to pursue civil action against him.

Last week a federal judge ordered Culp to serve 2-1/2 years in prison and pay more than $100,000 in fines and restitution for taking kickbacks from a voting-machine salesman and repairman.

ounty commissioners say they’re looking for nearly $160,000 prosecutors figured Culp illegally earned between 1990 and his retirement last year.
Republican Bill James says commissioners should sue for Culp’s salary and benefits during those years if he won’t agree to pay.

Chairman Parks Helms says he wants the county “to be made whole,” by having Culp pay back the money he earned illegally.

“I am unwilling for us to seek to impose any additional punishment on him . . . what he did is despicable, I have told him that . . . ,” Helms said. “This in no way condones or minimizes what he has done. What this is is a personal tragedy and a community tragedy and we need to find a way to lay it to rest – for the community’s sake as much for his sake and his family’s sake.”

Culp, considered a model employee during nearly three decades on the job, earned $76,870 a year when he retired.

An FBI investigation last year resulted in federal indictments against him, Columbia voting-machine salesman Ed O’Day and repairman Gene Barnes of Stuarts Draft, Va.

All three pleaded guilty, but Culp was the only one sentenced to prison. The judge ordered Culp and O’Day to pay the county about $73,000 in restitution. Culp must also pay a $50,000 federal fine.

Culp declined to comment Tuesday. Last week, he told reporters he hoped commissioners realized “I’ve been punished enough” and that he’d have to figure out how to pay money “I supposedly have that I don’t have.”

County commissioners voted last year to take his medical benefits away. They also agreed to consider pursuing legal action against him after his sentencing.

James says if Culp won’t voluntarily pay, the county should go after his and his wife Deena’s assets, which the court valued at about $466,000. That includes equity in their Dilworth home, two rental properties, a mountain house and their vehicles.

“He either pays the $160,000 or the gloves come off,” James said.

Reach Mary Elizabeth DeAngelis at (704) 358-5239 or .

Copyright (c) 1999 The Charlotte Observer

March 25, 1999 Section: METRO Edition: THREE Page: 2C

Former Mecklenburg County elections director Bill Culp, who pleaded guilty last year to taking bribes and kickbacks from two business associates, is scheduled to be sentenced next month.

The sentencing is set for April 12 in U.S. District Court in Charlotte.

Voting machine vendor Ed O’Day of Columbia, and repairman Gene Barnes of Stuarts Draft, Va., are also to be sentenced then.
Culp pleaded guilty in July to accepting more than $134,000 in bribes and kickbacks from 1990 through 1997. O’Day and Barnes admitted giving Culp money.

Culp pleaded guilty to conspiracy, public corruption and mail fraud. In exchange, prosecutors and his attorney agreed to recommend a 2-1/2-year federal prison sentence and restitution.

O’Day and Barnes also face prison terms of 2 to 2-1/2 years, which could be reduced because of their cooperation.

U.S. District Judge Richard Voorhees will make the final sentencing decision.

Culp and the others have been free on bond pending the sentencing hearing. The proceedings have been delayed while court officials compiled background reports. Part of the process included determining what restitution Culp and the others should make to the county.

County commissioner Bill James said the county will ask for about $80,000 in restitution for what auditors determined were overpayments on equipment. In a separate action, commissioners last year authorized the county attorney to look into pursuing civil action to seek Culp’s salary and benefits from 1990 through his retirement, James said.

Culp served for nearly 30 years in his post before retiring last year.

Copyright (c) 1999 The Charlotte Observer

August 12, 1998
Section: METRO
Edition: THREE
Page: 1C


Former Mecklenburg elections director Bill Culp will lose his county-paid health insurance and could face the loss of part of his pension.

Commissioners voted 5-4 Tuesday to cut off health insurance benefits for retirees or former employees who commit financial crimes against the county.

They also agreed to take up other issues later, including whether the county should try to cut off part of Culp’s pension because of his admission to taking bribes and kickbacks.
In another Culp-related decision, commissioners voted unanimously to find an outside firm to look into the county’s purchasing and auditing practices.

The issue came up toward the end of a marathon meeting that was still going on early today. Seated in the audience watching was Culp’s wife, Deena Culp.

Later, she declined to comment about the board’s action.

Culp, who served in his job for 28 years, pleaded guilty last month to taking more than $134,000 in bribes and kickbacks from a salesman and a voting machine repairman since 1990.

As part of a plea agreement, federal prosecutors have recommended Culp serve a 2-1/2-year federal prison term. Culp also agreed to cooperate with the government and pay restitution.

He’s expected to be sentenced later this year.

Culp retired in February and was entitled to county-paid health benefits.

Republican Bill James proposed that the county cut off the health benefits, which average about $182 a month per employee. He was backed by fellow Republicans Tom Bush, Joel Carter and George Higgins and independent Hoyle Martin.

Democrats Becky Carney, Parks Helms, Lloyd Scher and Darrel Williams voted against the proposal, saying it was premature and hadn’t been researched enough.

“I think we’re rushing a lot of this because we’re reacting to public outcry of one employee who did something despicable,” Carney said.

In another Culp issue, the commissioners heard from Carter, who asked police and the district attorney to investigate where Culp – who admitted to a long-time marijuana habit – got his drugs.

Carter had wanted the commissioners to back his request. They voted instead to receive it as information.

Copyright (c) 1998 The Charlotte Observer

August 11, 1998 Section: METRO Edition: THREE Page: 1C

Mecklenburg employees who commit crimes against the county could lose their health insurance under a plan prompted by former elections director Bill Culp’s admission to taking bribes and kickbacks.

Stripping convicted employees of health benefits is one of several proposals commissioners could debate as early as tonight.

Another is to form a committee made up of commissioners, staff and an outsider to oversee an independent review of the county’s auditing and purchasing practices.
And commissioner Joel Carter wants the board to ask police and the district attorney to investigate where Culp – who admitted to a long-term marijuana habit – got his drugs.

Commissioners were set to hold a special meeting on the Culp issues Aug. 18, but may take them up tonight if enough board members agree.

Most commissioners say they’ll support forming an audit committee and would agree to have an outside firm review county business practices. They’re more divided over the health benefits and drug issues, which some say shouldn’t be discussed until Culp is sentenced later this year.

“Some of what is being asked is dancing on Mr. Culp’s grave with an attempt to make individual commissioners look good,” said chairman Tom Bush.

Culp, 54, retired Feb. 1 after 28 years in the job. He was indicted last month on public corruption charges and later pleaded guilty to taking more than $134,000 in kickbacks from a salesman and voting machine repairman.

As a retiree with more than 20 years of service, Culp is eligible for county-paid health insurance. The county budgets about $182 a month per employee for health insurance.

Some commissioners say Culp should lose that benefit.

“We would establish a principle – if you steal from the county, you lose your (benefits),” said commissioner Bill James.

Culp could not be reached for comment.

Commissioner Parks Helms, who supports an outside audit, said the board should hold off on health insurance and other issues until the courts determine Culp’s restitution.

“It is at the very least premature,” Helms said. “We have no way of knowing what the sentence might require.”

Under a plea agreement, prosecutors recommended that Culp go to prison for 2-1/2 years and pay restitution. The agreement also requires him to cooperate with investigators.

Carter and James say investigators should force Culp to name whoever supplied him with marijuana.

In a letter to Police Chief Dennis Nowicki and District Attorney Peter Gilchrist, Carter said that both would be “remiss in your duties if we did not question Mr. Culp about where and how he acquired such an illegal substance.”

But most others, including Helms and Bush, say commissioners should stay out of the criminal proceedings.

“I have every confidence our district attorney and police chief will take whatever action deemed appropriate without any interference from a political board,” Helms said.

Deputy Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Jack Boger said his department would cooperate with federal investigators, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the district attorney.

Reach Mary Elizabeth DeAngelis at (704) 358-5239 or marye1 at .
Copyright (c) 1998 The Charlotte Observer

July 18, 1998 Section: METRO Edition: ONE-3 Page: 1C


A Mecklenburg commissioner wants the county to adopt more auditing controls and new rules to keep tax money from being spent on employee perks.

Republican Bill James says this month’s indictment charging former elections director Bill Culp with taking bribes and kickbacks should prompt the county to toughen up its controls.

James said the county also should have questioned Culp’s spending on meals, traveling and gifts for his staff.
He wants county auditors to answer directly to commissioners. He also wants to cut down on taxpayer-funded meals, traveling and perks. He’s supported by fellow Republican Joel Carter, who’s pushing a separate policy to limit business trips by staff members and commissioners.

“I think this is something that should have been initiated years ago when you’re dealing with a budget this large,” Carter said. “It’s way past time.”

Other commissioners say the proposals are premature. They said they’ll wait to hear County Manager Jerry Fox’s report on auditing controls before changing any rules.

“It’s irresponsible to start doing anything until we get that report,” said Democrat Becky Carney. “This is micro-managing at its worst.”

Commissioners Chairman Tom Bush, a Republican, said he too wants to hear Fox’s report before acting.

“I don’t want to kill an ant with a sledgehammer until I’ve got all the facts,” Bush said.

James said he drafted his proposals after the Observer reported that Culp used tax money to treat about 20 staffers to a $569 Christmas lunch at Bistro 100, buy them logo jackets and denim shirts, and take his wife and two employees on a two-night side trip before a New Mexico conference.

The report also said Culp allowed employees to use office vans if their cars were in the shop.

Critics say auditors didn’t question Culp’s budget or expenses until after the FBI launched an investigation last spring.

James, a certified public accountant, proposes six measures for commissioners to consider next month:
Form a committee of three commissioners that the county’s chief auditor would report to.
Prohibit employees from receiving gifts or other perks at taxpayer expense.
Allow employees to attend only out-of-town conferences needed to maintain professional licenses for county jobs. Employees now travel for seminars and conferences related to their jobs. It’s up to department heads – who answer to the county manager’s office – to decide which ones to attend.
Not allow tax money to be spent on office parties, dinners or lunches unless approved by the county manager.
Not allow employees to drive county vehicles for personal use.
Prohibit workers from buying liquor with taxpayer money unless it’s approved by the county manager. The county already has a policy that says employees aren’t allowed to buy liquor with taxpayer money.
Mecklenburg already has rules that prohibit driving county vehicles for personal use.
James also wants the county to adopt a “designated driver” policy for parties where alcohol is served, even if no taxpayer expense is involved. For example, if a county worker invites colleagues to an office Christmas party at home, designated drivers would be required, according to James.

“If it’s a county party, just because people bring their own liquor doesn’t absolve the county of responsibility,” James said.

Democratic commissioner Parks Helms said James’ plan “is more motivated for political purposes than accountability.”

Reach Mary Elizabeth DeAngelis at (704) 358-5239 or .
Copyright (c) 1998 The Charlotte Observer

July 12, 1998 Section: MAIN NEWS Edition: ONE-3 Page: 1A

His friends and foes say Bill Culp ran the Mecklenburg County elections office as if it were his own small family business.

Now, as Culp faces charges of taking more than $134,000 in kickbacks and bribes, some critics argue that the county didn’t ask enough questions about how he spent taxpayer money.

Generous to his workers, the former county elections director used tax dollars to:

Host a $569 Christmas lunch for about 20 staffers and board members at Bistro 100.
Use a business conference to take staff members and his wife on a two-day side trip to Sante Fe, N.M.
Buy his staff $33 denim shirts and $90 jackets, with logos from voting-machine company MicroVote, at a total cost of more than $1,200.
Let county workers use office vans as their own when their cars were in the shop.
Hire a media relations consultant – at $3,200 for a four-hour session – to teach four staff members how to deal with the media.

“It’s just indicative of a guy who thinks it was his department and he could do whatever he darn well pleased with no concern to the taxpayer,” said Mecklenburg commissioner Bill James, a frequent critic of government spending – and of Culp.
Culp, who spent 28 years on the job, was indicted Tuesday on federal charges he accepted kickbacks and bribes from MicroVote vendor Ed O’Day of Columbia and election-machine repairman Gene Barnes of Stuarts Draft, Va.

Repeated attempts to reach Culp were unsuccessful.

The FBI investigation has shocked many county leaders and members of Culp’s staff, who describe him as a loyal boss who expected much of them, and treated them well in return.

Workers pulled long and late hours during election season, handled frantic last-minute questions and complaints, and had to deal with the ups and downs of political upheaval with little thanks or reward.

“Bill’s management style involved taking care of his employees,” said Elections Board member Billy Miller. “He might argue – not unreasonably – that a $500 (lunch) investment in employee morale would lead to several thousand dollars of increase in productivity.”

But some say that, for a manager of a government office, his largesse was excessive.

In June 1995, Culp took his wife, Deena, and elections staff Members Jo Winkler and Julie McDaniel to Albuquerque for the summer conference of their professional trade group, the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers.

However, Culp and his group flew out of Charlotte two days before the conference began, rented a Ford Explorer and drove to Sante Fe – 60 miles away.

Culp’s group joined salesman O’Day and his wife, Sandra, there. Culp and his staff stayed at the deluxe La Fonda hotel at a room rate of $168 a night. They spent two nights, county records show. The group visited the city’s museums and craft shops, and toured the desert and a Native American settlement, Winkler and McDaniel said.

Winkler, elections office manager, and McDaniel, a voting technician, both said there was no business purpose for visiting Sante Fe, and they don’t remember what Culp told them was the reason for the side trip. They said they believed the group went early to take advantage of less-expensive weekend flights.

The Sante Fe detour cost taxpayers $1,273 in hotel, food and car-rental costs. Their round-trip airfare to Albuquerque cost roughly $360 a person. It’s unclear how much airfare they may have saved by departing early.

Sometimes Culp traveled alone.

In July 1996, he attended the National Association of Counties’ conference in Houston. He traveled there on behalf of MicroVote, and gave a presentation to officials in other counties about how the company’s voting machines had worked in Mecklenburg. He billed the county $1,126 for his four-day trip.

Like a family business’

Elections Board Chairman Ike Heard says he and others raised questions and would recommend some changes in Culp’s budget at times. Culp oversaw a budget of $4 million last year.

The office is funded by the county and overseen by the local Elections Board. Culp had a good deal of autonomy, Heard said.

“He did run it like a family business,” Heard said. “We never found anything untoward – just different.”

As far as Culp’s spending, Heard said, “As long as it passed muster with the county staff, we thought it was OK.”

Assistant County Manager Wanda Towler said Culp faced the same budget scrutiny as other department heads.

“I had no problem questioning Bill Culp about things,” Towler said. “ . . . I questioned things and I denied (approving) certain things.”

Towler said Culp violated no county policy by taking his staff to lunch, or in making a side trip from a conference at taxpayer expense – if it meant getting a cheaper airfare.

Towler and County Manager Jerry Fox said it wasn’t inappropriate or against county policy for Culp to buy his staff the MicroVote shirts and jackets. Fox said such purchases have been made to reward employees for doing a good job.

Critics – such as James, commissioner Joel Carter and some former staffers – say Elections Board members and county auditors allowed Culp too much freedom. James said that, until after Culp retired, the auditing staff didn’t pick up on Culp’s paying O’Day higher prices for supplies than others were charging.

An Observer review of the last two years of purchases found the county consistently paid 15 percent more for MicroVote supplies by buying through O’Day. At the same time, the elections office staff had a MicroVote price list showing the lower prices they could pay by buying directly.

“It’s obvious they were asleep at the switch,” James said. “You don’t give someone a position of authority and power for 28 years and never supervise what they’re doing.

“The fact that Culp was there for so long and was such an institution contributed to the sense that he could do anything he wanted.”

Meals and staff morale

Culp liked to have meetings over meals. He also hosted an annual Christmas luncheon for staff – at such places as Bistro 100, The Blue Marlin and Midtown Sundries. Depending on the restaurant and how many showed up, bills ran from $207 to $569 during the past five years.

County department heads have leeway in some spending decisions.

Most county agencies have holiday lunches or festivities, though where they’re held and how they’re paid for differ.

For example, the county’s 25-member human resources staff either takes a potluck lunch to work or goes out at their own expense. The Social Services Department, which has about 1,000 employees, holds an annual holiday luncheon at the Golden Corral Restaurant in east Charlotte. About 600 workers normally attend the $5.50-a-head luncheon at county expense.

“It’s to thank them for their outstanding job since they don’t get a lot of credit,” said social services Director Richard “Jake” Jacobsen. “It has been a big morale booster.”

Michael Dickerson, the newly chosen elections director, said he doesn’t know all the reasons Culp made the decisions he did. But he said he finds some of the ways that Culp ran the office unacceptable. For example, he said, no public agency should allow employees to drive government cars for their personal use.

“No matter how minuscule the dollars may be, that’s not an appropriate way to use county money,” he said. “I wouldn’t tolerate that.”

Dickerson said he would also be willing to re-examine whether the 14-member elections office staff needs two vans and a car.

An office staffer confirmed that he drove a county van for personal use and said other staffers often did as well, with Culp’s permission.

Culp thought his staff needed to know more than just how to work voting machines.

For example, last year at his behest, the county paid $3,200 to BlackSheep Communications for a half-day session to teach elections staffers how to deal with the media. David Blackshear of Matthews, the company president, said he gave a detailed class that included a lecture, question-and-answer session and videotape session for each worker.

Blackshear, who said he and Culp are friends of 30 years, said that’s his normal fee. County tax dollars also paid Blackshear $800 to publicize a political science course Culp was teaching at UNC Charlotte.

Mecklenburg has a public information department that can provide other county agencies with media training. But sometimes, the county will seek outside help, Towler said.

She said it was inappropriate, though, for the county to pay to publicize the class Culp taught at UNC Charlotte.

“That’s an expenditure I think we should not have incurred,” Towler said.

Reach Mary Elizabeth DeAngelis at (704) 358-5239 or marye1 at . Reach Carol D. Leonnig at (202) 383-6057 or cleonnig at .
Copyright (c) 1998 The Charlotte Observer

February 10, 1998 Section: METRO Edition: THREE Page: 4C

Deep in a feud with two county commissioners, former Mecklenburg Elections Director Bill Culp has dropped his plans to work as a consultant to the Elections Board.

Culp told commissioners’ Chairman Tom Bush that he’d step away from the consulting offer if Bush makes sure that “the harassing and intimidating actions of (Bill) James and (Joel) Carter will cease.”

Culp told Elections Board members Monday that he will not take money to consult for them as they seek a permanent replacement. But he said he’d help when they had questions about the operation he ran for nearly three decades.
“It’s obvious this has created a great deal of controversy. I thought it would be best if I ended that controversy,” Culp said.

Earlier, Culp fired off an angry e-mail to Carter. It was called “You are a Snake.”

“Joel, I do not really mind you slandering me because I can take it,” Culp wrote. “My disgust comes from your efforts . . . to slander my wife, my staff, my Board and other innocent people.

“As God as (sic) my witness, I will see you defeated and humiliated in the same way you have tried to finish me off . . . How can you be so evil and destructive?”

The feud between Culp and Carter has been building for months. Culp, who’s now a political consultant, is working to get Republicans James and Carter out of office.

Last week Carter asked commissioners to launch a 29-year audit of the Elections Board.

He said he received an anonymous letter accusing Culp of improprieties during his tenure as elections director, including accepting free gifts from vendors. The Observer also received a copy and, after checking several of the complaints, found no substance to them.

Carter also wanted commissioners to stop the Elections Board from hiring Culp to help train on elections preparations and procedures. He said Culp can’t be trusted to be impartial.

“This is just a typical liberal who has been caught in his everyday lies,” Carter said. “It’s catching up with him. . . .

“He is history. His credibility is zero and will forever be zero.”

James says he’s also received e-mails from Culp “accusing me of everything under the sun. I can see that he’s very upset. . . . I told him I’ll wait for him on the other side of rationality.”

Bush, also a Republican, says the three of them need to take their fights elsewhere.

Bush said he won’t support an audit because the county already did one and found no evidence of impropriety.

“The Board of County Commissioners is not going to use public proceedings or tax dollars to carry out political wars,” Bush said.

“It’s important that Mr. Culp and (Carter and James) carry out their disagreements with each other, and do not involve the Board of County Commissioners.”

However they carry on their disagreements, Culp made clear it won’t be through negotiation.

“Do not attempt to talk to me,” Culp wrote Carter. “Do not approach me on the street. Stay away from me. This is not a warning, this is just advice.

“No charge.”

And another thing

Mecklenburg County’s Elections Board voted Monday to hire a lawyer to handle a challenge to a candidate planning to run for the District 6 commissioner’s seat.

Conservative activist Joe Miller says David Misenheimer’s voter registration switch from Democrat to Republican was illegal because he failed to fill out the proper form. Instead, Misenheimer sent a letter to then-elections director Culp last fall requesting the change.

Miller says since there’s no form, Misenheimer hasn’t legally switched parties and shouldn’t be eligible to run.

Misenheimer, who’s scheduled to face incumbent Bill James in the Republican primary, said he’s done nothing wrong.

“I think the intent of Mr. Miller and Mr. James is to put a cloud over my campaign,” he said. “I’d like that cloud lifted as soon as possible.”

James said he’s not trying to avoid a contested primary.

“I think he’s in a legal bind and he’s learned a good lesson – when you’re in a bind, throw the blame on someone else,” James said of Misenheimer. “It’s his political neck in the wringer, not mine.”

The Elections Board has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 23.

Reach Mary Elizabeth DeAngelis at (704) 358-5239 or marye1 at .

Copyright (c) 1998 The Charlotte Observer

January 1, 1998 Section: METRO Edition: THREE Page: 1C

It was a year of contentious politics, and Mecklenburg County Elections Director Bill Culp ended it Wednesday by explaining why he’s leaving his nonpartisan post to jump into the battle.

He said the bitter and divisive debates of last year made it impossible for him to remain neutral.

”The polite politics of an earlier time have given way to highly personal attacks and increasing levels of intolerance,” he said. “Even I have fallen prey to this new order. . . . The public deserves an elections director who is neutral and able to refrain from making political statements and taking sides.”
Culp, 54, retires Feb. 1.

He said his first undertaking in the private sector will be working this year to get “progressive” candidates elected to the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners.

“I am reminded of words written by William Butler Yeats, who said, The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity,’ “ Culp told nearly 100 people gathered to hear his announcement.

“I intend to get in touch with my intensity, join in the battle that is raging and speak out on the issues and candidates that I believe in.”

Those candidates will not likely include Republican commissioners Joel Carter or Bill James, to whom Culp apologized – sort of – during his announcement.

Culp told The Observer last month that if he became a consultant, “you don’t think I’d go work for Joel Carter or Bill James, do you?”

On Wednesday, Culp said that as elections director he shouldn’t have been making such statements, “even though it would not have been a surprise to them or to you.”

James, who attended Culp’s news conference and later shook his hand, said he accepted the apology. He said he may someday informally seek out Culp’s opinion. “Though we do not agree on some matters, we always try to disagree agreeably,” James said.

Carter, who last week wanted Culp fired, said his statements then were a reaction to Culp’s “hurtful and harmful words regarding myself.”

“I am sorry that he feels that in his heart he is so partisan, but since he does, I think it will serve the community well that he retires,” Carter said.

Carter said he’s not worried that the retired Culp will probably be working against his re-election. “The only way he could harm me would be by changing votes. But I don’t think he’d stoop to that,” Carter said.

The Board of Elections will spend the next few months advertising for Culp’s successor and screening and interviewing candidates. It expects to make a decision by May.

Culp came to head the elections office in 1970. His is the second longest current tenure in North Carolina.

He was critical of the commissioners who cut arts funding because of their objections to plays that portrayed gay themes. He said he couldn’t remain objective when those same five commissioners, including James and Carter, voted to strip Democrat Parks Helms of the board’s chairmanship.

Culp said his decision to take a stance was partly inspired by civic leader Joe Martin, a friend. Martin, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease and uses a wheelchair, has been strongly critical of the commissioners’ anti-gay initiative and of the political coup that unseated Helms.

Culp fought tears as he talked about Martin:

“As I have talked to him and listened to his slowly diminishing words, I have come to the realization that we all need to wake up and decide what kind of community we want to be.”

Reach Mary Elizabeth DeAngelis at (704) 358-5239 or marye1 at .
Copyright (c) 1998 The Charlotte Observer

December 23, 1997 Section: METRO Edition: THREE Page: 4C

Mecklenburg County Elections Director Bill Culp, who said last week he plans to retire early next year, is now under pressure from a county commissioner who wants him fired.

In a letter sent out Monday, Republican commissioner Joel Carter said Culp, who has held his post for 28 years, should be forced to resign because he’s not impartial enough for the post.

“Given his comments about me personally, it is clear that he has no intention of being independent’ regarding my upcoming 1998 campaign for re-election and intends on doing everything he can to remove me and others from office,” Carter wrote to County Manager Jerry Fox.
“That is unacceptable behavior for the position he holds.”

Carter, who has accused Culp of recruiting candidates to run against him, says he may ask for a special meeting of the county commissioners to discuss the issue.

Culp says he’s never used his post to recruit candidates.

“It’s a figment of his imagination,” Culp said.”This is obviously just an attempt to attack me and my integrity. “

In announcing his resignation to friends and staff last week, Culp said the increasingly divisive nature of local politics has made it impossible to remain neutral.

He has been criticized before by Carter and commissioner Bill James, both conservative Republicans who’ve been at the center of some of the year’s most contentious debates.

Culp said that after he leaves, he intends to work for “progressive” candidates.

“You don’t think I’d go to work for Joel Carter or Bill James, do you?” he told The Observer last week.

Carter says those comments warrant Culp’s dismissal.

But it’s the county Board of Elections, not county commissioners, that hires and fires elections directors. The local board is appointed by the state Board of Elections. Last week, the three-member local board accepted Culp’s decision to retire Feb. 1.

“I don’t understand this sudden interest in trying to force me out,” Culp said. “I certainly haven’t done anything to deserve that.”

Reach Mary Elizabeth DeAngelis at (704) 358-5239 or marye1 at .
Copyright (c) 1997 The Charlotte Observer

December 19, 1997 Section: METRO Edition: ONE-3 Page: 1C
JIM MORRILL and DAN CHAPMAN, Staff writers * Staff writer
MARY ELIZABETH DEANGELIS contributed to this article.

Disillusioned by Mecklenburg County’s increasingly divisive politics, Democrat Bill Culp – who has refereed county elections for three decades – plans to retire and help “progressive” candidates.

Culp, 54, has been visibly upset in recent weeks by the conservative and contentious tilt of county politics. He announced his retirement this week, first to his board chairman, then to teary-eyed staffers and finally to friends in a Wednesday e-mail.

“This decision came as a result of political activity during the past year that made it impossible to remain neutral any longer,” Culp, the elections director, wrote.
“I have great respect and love for the institution of elections and I did not want to harm it. I intend to be active politically and work during 1998 to nominate and elect progressive candidates of both parties in Mecklenburg County.”

Culp discussed his impending departure in a closed meeting Thursday with the three-member Elections Board. Chairman Ike Heard said the board accepted Culp’s decision to retire Feb. 1.

New Year’s Day will mark Culp’s 28th anniversary as elections director, the second longest current tenure in North Carolina.

Earlier Thursday, Culp was coy about his plans, saying he would announce them in detail at a Dec. 31 news conference. He would not even confirm his retirement, let alone postretirement plans.

“If I retire, I would certainly go to work for progressive candidates, no doubt about it,” he said. “You don’t think I’d go work for Joel Carter or Bill James, do you?”

Carter and James are Republican county commissioners who have had their differences with Culp.

“I hope that Bill Culp leaves the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections office and clears off his desk tomorrow,” Carter said. “ Don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out.’ “

James said even though Culp has been fair, he’s still a Democrat.

“Bill is a nice guy but he’s a partisan, liberal Democrat,” James said. “I just think he’s upset that the ideology he thinks is important has been losing.”

Culp, a Vietnam veteran, came to the job in 1970. At the time, the county had 70 precincts, 120,000 registered voters and no districts. Today there are 390,000 registered voters, 163 precincts and district representation in legislative, city, county and school board elections.

Through the years, Culp has acted as informal adviser and confidante to candidates of all persuasions. He always prided himself on his professional neutrality.

“If you’ve watched him over the past year, you could see that he chafes more and more under the mantle of having to be neutral and fair to people who are rascals and scalawags and otherwise unproductive citizens in his view,” said Ted Arrington, a former Elections Board chairman.

“I don’t think he’s a terribly partisan or a liberal Democrat. . . . Bill is very much a middle-of-the-road kind of person.”

But Culp showed irritation after April’s vote by county commissioners to cut arts funding. In a debate laced with moral overtones, commissioners Carter and James joined three others in voting to cut the money.

James later accused Culp of trying to recruit candidates to run against conservatives. “I think you know that if you are intending on doing that, you will do it from the outside and not as elections director,” James wrote Culp.

And this month, Culp raised some eyebrows with a quote after the ouster of Democrat Susan Burgess as chairperson of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board.

“We may be number two in banking,” he said, “but we sure are number one in political back-stabbing.”

Culp said the board has asked him to consider remaining as a consultant for an unspecified time. “That could very easily last through the May primary,” he said.

Exactly what Culp will do politically is unclear. Asked about plans to run for office, he said, “I don’t close any doors.” Democratic county commissioner Parks Helms said he’s already asked Culp to help him in 1998.

“He said he would give it some thought,” Helms said.

Despite his critics, Culp has generally won bipartisan praise for the way he’s conducted himself.

“Bill Culp in my estimation has served this county with intensity and integrity,” says Billy Miller, a Republican Elections Board member. “He has in my opinion worked diligently to be fair and evenhanded with everyone in the community. In spite of what may be going on with him at this point, we owe him a great debt for his past service.”

Reach Jim Morrill at (704) 358-5059 or morrill at .
Copyright (c) 1997 The Charlotte Observer

April 25, 1997 Section: METRO Edition: THREE Page: 1C

Bill Culp says he’s just telling the facts. Bill James says it could get him fired.

James, a Republican Mecklenburg County commissioner, says he’s concerned Culp may be recruiting candidates to run against conservative commissioners. Culp has been Mecklenburg’s elections director for 28 years.

“I think you know that if you are intending on doing that, you will do it from the outside and not as elections director,” James wrote Culp in an e-mail last Friday. “I trust you can also count to five on this issue as well,” referring to a majority on the nine-member Board of County Commissioners.
James didn’t name the five votes that could fire Culp. James later wrote to Culp that his comments were not intended to be threatening, and in an interview late Thursday, said “I should have used different verbiage.”

Culp says he can’t be fired by the county commissioners anyway. He was appointed by the county Board of Elections, and its members are appointed by the state Board of Elections.

“There’s an intimidation factor more than a threat, to try to keep me from saying things that Mr. James would prefer I didn’t say,” Culp said. “You think that’s the first time I’ve been threatened by somebody? Gimme a break.”

James said he had heard that Culp, a registered Democrat, was “organizing and spearheading” challenges of some Republican commissioners.

He also questioned whether Culp was advocating that Democratic voters register as unaffiliated and then vote in the Republican primary. By doing so, Democrats could help nominate Republicans who are more moderate than those on the current board.

Culp acknowledges that he discussed the fact that unaffiliated voters can vote in the Republican primary on Jerry Klein’s WBT-AM (1110) talk show, as well as to the Democrat-dominated Black Political Caucus and several individuals. But he said he was only providing information about the electoral process.

“I was simply telling it like it is,” Culp said Thursday. “I’m going to do my job, and my job is to provide information and tell people what is possible within the system as it has been established, and that’s exactly what I fully intend to do.”

James scoffed at that. “I don’t remember him saying that Republicans can switch and vote in the Democratic primary,” he said.

Culp said about a dozen people have come to him expressing interest in running against the five commissioners who voted April 1 to cut $2.5 million in funding for the Arts & Science Council. He said he has provided those people demographic and electoral information, but not political advice.

Republican commissioner Joel Carter backed James. “There are other commissioners (besides James) who are concerned with the escapades and the bias that is currently being promoted in the community by some of our hired county officials,” he said.

“ . . . If Bill Culp thinks he can’t be replaced, I’ve got news for him.”

James said he believes Culp wants some of the current commissioners replaced as retribution for the arts funding vote.

“His anger and passion over losing this issue, I think, is clouding his judgment, putting him in a position where he may not be upholding election law,” James said Thursday.

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