Deena Dean is doing her job, no one notices.
As Bucks County's elections director, she makes sure there are enough voting machines and that
only registered voters get to cast ballots. The integrity of the voting process depends on her. Politically, she must be neutral.
But in front of a federal court judge recently she broke down and cried,
saying that's not always true.
She blamed the Republicans who run Bucks
County — a surprise because Dean is one of them.
Her testimony and information revealed after the hearing shed some light
on the inner workings of county government. Her bosses “impeded [her from] doing her job in a fair, non-political way”
and she was “most afraid” of the chief operating officer, she said.
Dean's emotional testimony suggested there was more to the story and
the next day GOP Commissioners Charley Martin and Jim Cawley were called to the witness stand to speculate on her motives.
It turns out Dean got in trouble late last year for the way she went about warning top officials of possible problems with
the county's voting machines and its elections Web site.
What could make a woman once known as a good solider turn into a dissident?
The answer is Creekside.
CREEKSIDE MOVE A LONG TIME COMING
The Bensalem apartment complex first attracted public attention in the
spring of 2007, just before a contentious commissioners' primary.
That's when three judges, who act as the Board of Elections when commissioners
are on the ballot, calmly listened to lengthy testimony and, with no discussion, relocated the polling place at Creekside
to Polanka Hall, the Polish Club about a mile away.
Marc Weinstein, an attorney representing Creekside residents in a voter
disenfranchisement lawsuit, said the move was a Republican ploy to make it hard for Democrats to vote.
During a hearing earlier this month, Weinstein tried to link Cawley and
Martin, Bucks County Chief Operating Officer Dave Sanko, Bensalem solicitor Joseph Pizzo, Bensalem Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo
and Bensalem GOP Chairman Mike Brill to a Creekside conspiracy.
Republicans, however, argued that the apartment complex was simply too
dangerous and parking was inadequate to continue hosting the polling place. They pointed to two letters Dean received in February
2007 that appeared to be from residents worried about the violence at Creekside.
But recent testimony and court documents show this seemingly routine
polling place change was on high-ranking officials' minds as much as three years earlier.
Dean learned of officials' desire to move Creekside when Brill contacted
her in 2004.
“He said that, you know, it was a Democrat poll ... and the other
voters felt intimidated coming to that poll location,” she testified.
That summer, she received a letter from the property manager at the apartment
complex, asking her to move the poll out of Creekside.
About a week later, a member of Dean's staff e-mailed her to say Pizzo
had called, in part, “to find out if we received the letter from Creekside requesting that we move the polling place.”
Pizzo said in a phone interview after the hearing he didn't specifically
remember the conversation alluded to in the e-mail, but he said he would have supported moving the Creekside poll in 2004,
just as he supported it in 2007.
(Pizzo testified he entered the fray shortly before the spring 2007 Board
of Elections meeting, not as Bensalem's solicitor, but as a private citizen. Although he lives on the other side of town,
he said, he took a personal interest in the relocation of the poll.)
In December 2006, on a memo regarding the move, appeared the hand-written
message: “Deena, Please call Commissioner Cawley. Thanks!” Dean said she did not know who prepared the memo, but
understood the meaning. Cawley, she said, “would like me to work on what was outlined here.”
Weeks later, Dean testified, she made calls on the matter and stuck Post-it
notes to the memo. One note indicates DiGirolamo was working on moving the polling place to the Polish Club. The other memorializes
a conversation she had with Brill on Jan. 9, 2007, when she learned DiGirolamo and Cawley
planned to meet with the club's board two days later.
Cawley later testified he could not remember whether he discussed the
issue with the board. DiGirolamo was not asked to testify.
Dean then received a letter dated Jan. 27, 2007, from the club's managing officer, volunteering to host the poll. “It will be our privilege to provide this
very important service to our community,” the letter said.
Days later, letters from residents worried about violence at Creekside
arrived on Dean's desk. Testimony showed the residents, past and present Republican committee people, merely lent their names
to the cause; it was Brill who brought them the letters to sign.
The pattern of documents and phone calls days apart, “just goes
to show this thing was being orchestrated at the highest levels,” Weinstein said.
Pizzo, however, said officials always visit polling places before a change
is confirmed and rejected allegations of a Republican plot to prevent voters from casting ballots. Instead, he said, Democrats
are using Creekside residents to score political points.
“Nowhere in the state Constitution does it guarantee you a polling
place within walking distance of your home,” he said, adding: “No one was disenfranchised. Some people were inconvenienced.”
Dean came under increasing pressure as the Creekside controversy continued.
On Sept. 18, 2008, she finally sent an e-mail to Democratic Commissioner Diane Marseglia, saying
“they” tried to “intimidate me, confuse me and make me doubt myself.”
“They worked me over pretty good prior to meeting with Marc,”
she wrote, referring to a deposition scheduled with Weinstein. When the e-mail surfaced, the judge granted an order prohibiting
the county's attorneys from contacting Dean about Creekside.
She testified that during a pre-deposition meeting, assistant county
solicitor Tina Mazaheri “screamed that "I better get the guilty look off my face.' ” Dean went on to testify Martin
and Cawley “impeded (her from) doing her job in a fair, non-political way,” and she was “most afraid”
of Sanko, whom she accused of two years of harassment.
Weinstein suggested there are other examples of intimidation that did
not come out during the federal hearing.
“As far as the other stuff Deena Dean has been subjected to,”
Weinstein said, “keep in mind it's not all out there yet.”
GOOD SOLDIER OR LOOSE CANNON?
Martin, Cawley and Sanko testified they did nothing wrong and can think
of only one reason why Dean would implicate them: revenge for a disciplinary letter placed in her file nine months ago. The
trio declined to comment and Dean referred all questions to her attorney.
Dean was indeed chastised in a letter dated Jan. 9.
It accused her of failing to cooperate with county officials when it
took her 24 hours to reveal the name of an employee who warned of possible election problems. She gave in after being threatened
with an unpaid suspension.
The employee worried about the testing of electronic voting machines
and the transmission of election results to the county's Web site. On election night, problems with a courthouse server prompted
officials to use one at an employee's home to transmit results to the site.
A county investigation concluded no parts of the election were compromised.
But the damage to Dean had been done.
She erred, the letter said, when she e-mailed the concerns to commissioners,
the solicitor, Sanko and her direct supervisor planning director Lynn Bush. Instead, she should have discussed it with Bush
only, the letter explained.
County officials refer to this structure as the “chain of command,”
although it does not appear in the employee handbook. Sanko said the organizational or reporting structure is a standard management
practice used to reinforce accountability and efficiency for the taxpayer.
Dean's attorney, David Truelove, said, “It's very difficult to
enforce a policy that's supposed to be so clearly understood when it doesn't exist in writing anywhere.”
The letter was sternly worded, but would it be enough to turn Dean against
The answer is hard to figure, considering Dean's history with the party.
This is a woman who did not get Democratic support for a promotion to elections director in 1992 because of perceived partiality
to the Bucks GOP.
Dean had worked in voter registration since 1978 and was groomed for
the top spot, but she also volunteered at Republican headquarters in Doylestown and was treasurer of the county
Young Republicans for less than a year. She remains a registered Republican.
At the time, then-commissioner Sandy Miller, a Democrat, said Dean was
qualified, but the benefactor of patronage.
“This is a very sensitive position,” she said. “This
individual is known to be political. All the political activity on her part must cease. I hope she will provide service to
all Bucks Countians regardless of registration.”
Miller said Dean showed political favoritism at least once. In 1995,
Dean asked her to recommend a Democrat who could temporarily help in the office so that both parties had representation, Miller
said. Later, when it was revealed that Miller's pick was the sister-in-law of her campaign manager, John Galloway —
now a state representative — Miller hoped Dean would come to her defense.
“Instead, she was mute,” said Miller, who later came to be
closely associated with Cawley and Martin herself.
Miller opposed the move from Creekside a year ago, but recently she seemed
to side with the GOP commissioners. The day after testimony ended in the federal hearing, Miller explained what she said was
the real motivation for her “no” vote years ago.
“A major reason for me not voting for Deena is that I felt there
were emotional and stability concerns. It was unspoken at the time,” Miller said, adding: “It was not at all unusual
for her to be in tears over one issue or another.”
Miller said she didn't “think it appropriate” to raise such
concerns publicly at the time, and she knew then-commissioners Mark Schweiker and Andy Warren, planned to reward the “good
Truelove sprang to Dean's defense, calling Miller's comments “outrageous
and scurrilous” and “the musings of an embittered political hack.”
Others questioned about Dean's performance and character had nothing
negative to say.
“She was always a person that I believed to be very competent and
behind-the-scenes oriented in terms of having a job to do, doing the job and being content with that,” Warren said.
Madeline Rawley, a Doylestown Township resident who for years has scrutinized the voting process in Bucks, said she could not say whether Dean has ever acted
in a partisan manner because the overall elections process is not transparent.
“I don't think she's been given the resources in terms of the right
voting system or the personnel that she needs to fulfill her responsibilities,” she said.
Marseglia, the Democratic commissioner, said she has seen zero evidence
of emotional instability on Dean's part.
“The thing that makes her so good at being director of elections
is she is fastidious, so careful that everyone has confidence that the elections are bipartisan,” she said.
Truelove said Dean, the mother of two sons, copes well under stress,
but he declined to go into specifics.
“She's not an emotional cripple,” he said. “This is
a lady who had a child who when she was very young had to deal with a very serious illness. To say she can't deal with this
stuff because she's unstable first of all is a cheap shot and displays a tremendous amount of ignorance about county staff.”
Despite all this, he said, Dean has no plans to leave county government.
“I think she has every intention to stay on,” Truelove said.
“I think she feels duty bound. This is almost like her calling. In this day and age, she's become someone's who's valued
and well regarded in this field.”
Dean will likely remain in the spotlight as both sides ramp up the political
County Democratic chairman John Cordisco said not since the Dump the
Pump controversy has public opinion about the commissioners turned on one issue. But, he said, Creekside, piled on top of
other county practices, could add up for voters.
“It's more cumulative,” he said. “If the trend continues
the way it's been up to now with county government, voters will welcome a change.”
Marseglia said Dean's treatment is just one example of “inappropriate
behavior” in the courthouse.
“It's part of the whole mentality of the courthouse to keep things
quiet and not let anyone know,” she said.
Pat Poprik, vice chairwoman of the county GOP, defended Martin and Cawley,
insisting the polling place was moved due to legitimate safety concerns. She downplayed the impact the issue could have on
the future of the party, which controls the commissioners' board and holds all row offices.
“This is being made into a political issue for other reasons,”
she said. “This happens all the time. It's common.”
Common or not, the issue weighed on Cawley enough for him to drive out
to Creekside in search of a site that made everyone happy. Commissioners took his suggestion and moved the polling place to
St. Mary Wellness Center, within walking distance of Creekside.
The compromise convinced Weinstein's clients to drop their efforts to
immediately return the voting booths to Creekside, the focus of the federal hearing, but the voter disenfranchisement lawsuit
is far from over.
Last week commissioners added to their defense two Philadelphia attorneys who specialize in civil rights.