Buckingham County’s Republican Chairwoman Ramona Christian has withdrawn the county’s recently fired interim registrar and his wife from the GOP’s list of three nominees for a vacant Republican position on the local elections board.
On May 10, Christian penned a letter to Buckingham Circuit Court Judge Donald Blessing, nominating Luis Gutierrez, his wife, Tambra Riggs-Gutierrez, and Jose Antonio Breland to the vacant seat on the Buckingham Electoral Board. Less than two weeks later, Christian withdrew her nomination of Gutierrez and his wife.
In an email sent to Blessing, Christian claimed she had been “unaware of most of the issues” swirling around former county registrar Luis Gutierrez, according to The Virginia Mercury. Christian did acknowledge, however, that she was aware of his firing when she initially nominated him – Guiterrez was fired on May 9, one day after several residents showed up at a public meeting to say that “the turmoil and dysfunction surrounding the office were a growing embarrassment for their community.”
Republican Electoral Board Chairwoman Karen Cerwinski said that Gutierrez was terminated for “falsification” of his job application, but his firing comes after numerous county residents reported “unusual encounters” with him.
In addition, Buckingham County Supervisor Jordan Mile announced earlier this month that he intends to file a lawsuit against Gutierrez over a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) dispute. Mile claims that Guitierrez attempted to charge him a $200 “convenience fee” for public records, and told him to “get a part-time job at WalMart” to afford the FOIA fees in an email.
Virginia’s FOIA law says that “no public body shall impose any extraneous, intermediary, or surplus fees” beyond the actual expense of finding records and making copies.
In her letter to Blessing, Christian also claimed she had recently been informed that the Gutierrez’ were legally prohibited from entering the county election office due to a “protective order” that had been taken out against them. Gutierrez disputed this claim, the Virginia Mercury states, saying that the order was a “no trespass order,” something that the Buckingham Sheriff’s Office later confirmed. The order only prevented the couple from going to the registrar’s office “without an appointment and escort from a deputy.”
“If I had been aware of any of these concerns, I would have never presented you with these names,” Christian wrote. Maggie Snoddy, a local Democratic Party official, however, doesn’t believe her.
“She was well aware of his behavior in that office,” Snoddy said in a May 22 phone interview with the Virginia Mercury. “I don’t believe that for one second. She’s covering her tracks.”
Gutierrez served as the county’s interim registrar for less than a month, after being hired on April 11, after the county’s entire election staff quit. As the Virginia Mercury notes, the local GOP’s decision to nominate Gutierrez “appeared to indicate the party was rallying around him, and the whole situation serves to “spotlight the degree to which Virginia law gives often hyper-partisan local party committees an important role in picking who oversees election offices that are meant to be nonpartisan.”
Gutierrez, a self-described “proud Republican,” has, in the past, expressed support for former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent.
Some Buckingham County residents have expressed relief over Gutierrez’ firing.
Under Virginia law, the party that most recently won the governorship gets an automatic majority on all of the state’s 133 local electoral boards, which control the hiring and firing of registrars and oversee local election officials. Since Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin won the election in 2021, all electoral boards flipped to Republican majorities, something that, the Virginia Mercury notes, “appeared to set off the feud in Buckingham that caused the entire election office to quit” in the first place.
“They’re allowed two Republicans on the board. I have no issue with that. This is about good governance and right versus wrong,” Snoddy told the Virginia Mercury. “As much as they spout the law, wave the lawbook at all these meetings, they’re clueless.”
Now, Chairwoman Christian is tasked with submitting new names to Judge Blessing for his consideration. On May 22, Blessing said that the hearing on the issue is postponed until he receives those names.
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