County hears election fraud concern

A Gas City man said he is concerned about the security of local elections following the 2020 presidential election. Commissioners and County Clerk Sherrie Riebel assured him of the integrity of the system, and invited him to a public demonstration of voting machines later this month.

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October 6, 2021 - 10:39 AM

Allen County Commission Chairman Bruce Symes. Photo by Vickie Moss

County officials assured a Gas City man about the security of local elections, after he expressed concerns about fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

A public demonstration is offered later this month to educate voters about how the machines work.

Randy Riebel asked for reassurances about the voting machines used in Allen County, saying he preferred if the county returned to using only paper ballots. He said he has watched movies and testimony before Congress regarding the 2020 election, and he believes it would be easy for someone to hack into ballot-counting machines.

“There’s been a lot of evidence out there about manipulation of the vote. I don’t believe this county has an issue but I believe the machines we got are the issue,” Randy Riebel said.

County Clerk Sherrie Riebel assured him the county has several safeguards in place to prevent fraud, and invited him to attend the demonstration at 3 p.m on Oct. 28. 

The machines are not connected to the internet, so they cannot be programmed from an outside source. 

Sherrie Riebel writes the program herself on a machine that is not connected to the internet, then saves the program on a USB drive, and uses that drive to download the program to the election machines. 

That didn’t convince Randy Riebel, who speculated the USB drive could be corrupted before it gets to her. Sherrie Riebel assured him that was not possible, and again invited him to attend the demonstration.

Randy Riebel said he would.

Commission Chairman Bruce Symes also offered reassurances: “I have no doubt about the integrity of our system. I was involved in watching it get set up and again with the canvass of the votes. I appreciate your concerns.”

The Nov. 2 election for city and school board positions will be the first election since the 2020 presidential elections.

Emergency Management Director Jason Trego.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Storm shelters

Residents in four Allen County communities could soon feel a little safer, as commissioners are almost ready to approve a plan to install five storm shelters. 

Petrolia, Carlyle and Mildred would each receive one large shelter that could accommodate up to 80 people. 

Because railroad tracks divide Savonburg, it would receive two smaller shelters to accommodate up to 50 people. Jason Trego, emergency management director, said it’s important to have a shelter on each side of the tracks in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency that would make crossing them impossible.

Commissioners are waiting for a final price tag on the shelters before they give Trego the go-ahead to purchase them. 

The cost shouldn’t exceed $228,500, Trego said.

He initially got bids for five large shelters and five small shelters, at $228,500 and $178,725 respectively, from Protection Shelters LLC.

But commissioners decided to mix-and-match the sizes, so that could change the total cost.

Once approved, Protection Shelters will deliver and install the shelters. County crews will locate and level a spot for them. The walls are 8 inches thick and each of the shelters includes a handicap-accessible door. 

Commissioners indicated they likely will approve the purchase when they meet on Oct. 12. The quote is good until Oct. 14. 

Delivery was expected about 90 to 120 days after approval, pending weather and availability of materials. 

Moran City Council member Jim Mueller, left, and Mayor Jerry Wallace ask Allen County Commissioners to use American Rescue Plan Act funds to help with their water project. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

ARPA fund requests

The City of Moran became the latest city to ask for the county’s help with water projects.

Humboldt and Iola both asked the county for some of its $2.4 million in American Relief Plan Act (ARPA) funding. Humboldt needs help with multiple water and sewer projects; Iola needs help with maintenance of its water towers.

Moran needs to replace 12,000 linear feet of cast-iron pipe. The corroded pipe has caused the city to lose an estimated 13% of its water supply. About 89 service connections are lead and need to be replaced, City Council member Jim Mueller and Mayor Jerry Wallace told commissioners.

The project will cost about $900,000. The city plans to take out a $373,000 loan through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and has applied for a $450,000 Community Development Block Grant. 

They’ve also applied about $77,000 the city received of its own ARPA funds to the work. 

That will leave about $450,000 for the city’s portion. If the county could help with about $200,000 of that amount, it would offset a rate increase for Moran utility customers.

Dispatch phones

Chelsie Angleton, 911 director, told commissioners she plans to provide three cell phones for emergency services. 

One would go to Trego, another to Angleton and a third would be kept at the dispatch center as a backup in case of emergencies. That phone could be used by dispatchers if the 911 center had to be evacuated for an emergency; it would include backup emergency documents and plans so dispatchers could continue to operate.

Angleton plans to sign a contract with Verizon for a special rate of $39.99 per line, part of an offer available only to emergency responders. It would include free phones and a special service that allows the phones to continue to operate even during outages for most users.

Currently, Trego is reimbursed $40 per month for using his personal phone to conduct county business. Angleton also uses her personal phone for county business but has not taken advantage of the county’s offer for reimbursement since she was promoted to the director’s position.

It’s common for county employees to use their personal cell phones to conduct county business. 

There are pros and cons for each, aside from the hassle of having to carry two phones. 

If the county provides phones, they cannot be used for personal calls. The county could be subjected to an audit, which would require each call to be scrutinized. 

But using personal phones for county business brings a security risk, Angleton pointed out.

Deputies have a dedicated phone for work-related calls, and it would help if dispatchers could send sensitive information to them in a timely manner. That can’t happen if dispatch employees are using personal phones. 

Angleton also was concerned about the potential that a personal phone could be subpoenaed.

Commissioners had questions about the costs of the phone and potential for an audit, but ultimately conceded it was within Angleton’s authority to make the change without their approval.

IN OTHER business, commissioners:

• Ron Holman, county maintenance, presented a bid for a new door at the Iola Senior Center building on State Street. A door will cost $2,328.40; installation will bring the total to $4,728.40. 

Commissioners asked if county crews could handle the installation and save costs. Public Works Director Mitch Garner said he could look at it, but typically that is not a job they perform.

• Garner also gave an update on various machines that were waiting on parts, and delivery has been slow. That includes a bucket truck used for trimming trees; some residents have complained about overgrowth. Chip-and-seal work also was delayed this week because of repair issues.

• Approved a request from Chelsea Lea to install Christmas lights on the courthouse square. She plans to install lights beginning in early November. 

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