Westmoreland County election bureau director ousted

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Jun. 30—The Westmoreland County commissioners said Tuesday they will hire a new election bureau director.

Election Bureau Director JoAnn Sebastiani was suspended with pay on June 8, and none of the three commissioners has disclosed reasons for that disciplinary action.

Sebastiani, 63, was hired last August to run the department. She oversaw last fall's presidential election and the primary conducted in May.

The commissioners on Tuesday again did not reveal whether Sebastiani was fired, saying only that her job was now vacant.

Sebastiani declined comment Tuesday afternoon.

"We are looking forward to moving in a new direction with the election bureau," Westmoreland County Commissioner Gina Cerilli Thrasher said in an emailed statement. "The reorganization will ensure a check and balance system is in place for upcoming elections. As county commissioners, one of our biggest responsibilities is to ensure fair and accurate elections. Therefore, a reorganization of the election bureau is a top priority for us."

Commissioner Sean Kertes, when asked earlier Tuesday about the future of the election bureau director, said he was not aware that a decision had been reached as to Sebastiani's status.

Kertes did not respond to requests for comment after the job posting was made public later in the afternoon.

County Human Resources Director Alexis Bevan, in a late afternoon statement, confirmed the county will hire a new election bureau director.

"As a result of other election related issues that arose previously and in the latest municipal primary, the county evaluated the election bureau and at this time will be seeking applicants for the director position, which became vacant as of June 19, 2021," Bevan wrote.

Commissioner Doug Chew referred to the statement issued by Bevan and did not respond to additional questions.

Sebastiani was hired to run the election bureau after former director Beth Lechman resigned following the 2020 primary, which was delayed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Sebastiani had no prior experience running elections when she was hired, having served the previous five years as deputy director in the county tax office.

Two months into Sebastiani's tenure, the commissioners fired her deputy without explanation as the office struggled to keep up with increased demands related to the implementation of no-excuse mail-in balloting. More than 70,000 Westmoreland County voters used last fall.

Meanwhile, a coronavirus outbreak among election bureau staff led to delays in posting final results from the Presidential Election.

Problems continued to plague the election bureau this spring.

One district judge race was left off ballots in four precincts in Mt. Pleasant, and another error resulted in a seat on the Southmoreland School Board race to be excluded from the ballot.

Employee departures left the election bureau understaffed for the May 18 primary and the commissioners temporarily reassigned the county's public works director to assist Sebastiani with management duties in the days before and after the primary.

Primary results were posted late to the county website this spring, and write-in winners in 14 municipal primaries were initially excluded from final tallies released by the county.

Commissioners earlier this month restructured the election bureau and created three new management positions including an office manager's job that has since been filled. Bevan said interviews to fill a quality assurance manager and voter systems manager posts are ongoing.

"Per the last salary board action, the election bureau was reestablished as a department under the umbrella of the Information Systems Department, with Scott Ross, director of Information Systems, assuming management of the election bureau until the director position is filled," according to the county's statement.

According to the job posting, the new director will be required to have at least three years experience working in elections.

Applicants for the now vacant director's job will be accepted through Friday, July 9.

Correction: Sebastiani was first suspended on June 8. The original version of this story said June 9.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, rcholodofsky@triblive.com or via Twitter .