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Conflict-of--Interest Probe of Ex-Elections Staffer Sought

The official helped certify voting machines, then joined a firm that sells the devices. He denies any impropriety.

October 31, 2002|Tim Reiterman | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — California's elections chief has requested a formal investigation of a former staff member who helped certify voting machines for use in the state, then went to work for one of the vendors.

Secretary of State Bill Jones asked the state's political watchdog agency this week to examine whether the conduct of his former voting systems director, Lou Dedier, constituted a conflict of interest or other impropriety under the Political Reform Act.

Until his resignation Oct. 14, Dedier's duties included compiling evaluations and tests for an in-house panel that decided whether to allow vendors to sell their voting machines to California counties.

Dedier, 39, quit to work as a vice president overseeing California operations for Elections Systems & Software, a Nebraska company competing for a share of hundreds of millions of dollars that counties are expected to spend to upgrade their voting systems in coming years.

"I am insulted that after 22 years as a state employee, an accusation of inappropriate conduct would come up," Dedier said in an interview Wednesday. "I know I did not violate anything. I was very careful."

Dedier said the firm was already certified in California when he joined Jones' office about two years ago. He said he showed no favoritism toward his prospective employer and, in fact, recommended the full certification of a competing firm as his final act as a state employee.

State law prohibits employees from using their official position to influence governmental decisions affecting prospective employers.

James Rhoades, Kern County's registrar of voters, said that when he visited the secretary of state's office in April, Dedier had a worker demonstrate an Elections Systems voting machine.

"He was very enthusiastic about the technology and potential of the machine, but he said that because of his job, [he] could not recommend any product," said Rhoades, who added that the county bought a system from a competing company.

Dedier said that Elections Systems did not offer him a job until this month and that a few vendors left demonstration equipment in the office for local election officials to examine.

"I always would tell the elections officials that all the equipment is good and they need to select the equipment that suits their needs," he said.

In announcing his hiring on Oct. 16, the company said Dedier will "lead the ES&S partnership" with local election officials who will be modernizing their systems. And Dedier said in the news release, "I've evaluated several election management vendors over the years, and ES&S clearly has by far the best elections systems and support."

That statement upset Jones because he said it unfairly undercut the credibility of his office's multilayered certification process, which includes independent evaluations by outside experts.

"I believe it was inappropriate," Jones said in an interview. "I want to make clear to all vendors that each has an opportunity ... under the transparent process we established."

Two competitors complained about Dedier's move in letters to Jones that were forwarded Monday to the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

Diebold Election Systems representative Deborah Seiler said her company was concerned that Dedier could share with his new employer proprietary information from competing companies. Dedier's activities, she wrote, "may raise ethical concerns as well as potential conflict-of-interest violations."

Another vendor, Hart InterCivic, raised a question about "missing" company documents sent to the secretary of state's office, saying, "Due to recent developments with Lou Dedier's employment status, we are very concerned about the disposition of this documentation, as it contains intellectual property and trade secret information."

Dedier said he was not privy to anything that was not public information and did not remove anything from Jones' office except personal property. "I would welcome anyone searching my home, my [computer] system," he said.

An FPPC spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter.

Former state employees are banned for a year from influencing the departments where they previously worked. Dedier said he will neither lobby the state nor be involved in sales.

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