Man alleging misconduct in LaVista Hills vote was fired from job in 2012

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt November 6, 2015
File Photo provided by Dena Mellick

File Photo provided by Dena Mellick

This story has been updated. 

The man who has triggered a Georgia Bureau of Investigation probe into the LaVista Hills election was fired from his job as Director of Elections in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania in 2012.

Leonard Piazza, the second-highest ranking official at DeKalb Voter Registration and Elections Office, has been placed on administrative leave. He alleges it’s because he raised questions about the integrity of the Nov. 3 LaVista Hills referendum, which was defeated by 136 votes. His boss, Maxine Daniels, said he was placed on leave due to an unrelated personnel issue.

Piazza has not returned messages from Decaturish seeking comment.

According to an article by The Citizens Voice in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Piazza was fired two weeks before a primary vote in 2012. According to the article, “the decision appears to be connected to Piazza’s attempt to audit the campaign finances of county Controller Walter L. Griffith Jr., who in December started reviewing Piazza’s attendance records as part of a payroll audit of 378 county employees.” To read the full story, click here.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that there was allegedly a memory card that wasn’t secured at the Briarlake Elementary precinct. To read that story, click here. While split precincts led to some confusion on Tuesday’s vote, Briarlake was not one of them. Precinct-by-precinct results of the referendum show that Briarlake precinct was split almost down the middle, with 378 “Yes” votes to 313 “No” votes.

In an email to LaVista Hills political consultant Steve Schultz, Piazza alleged that he’d been placed on leave as retaliation for questioning the outcome of the election. “Upon questioning the integrity of the LaVista Hills Incorporation Ballot Question earlier today, I was dismissed from work and subsequently placed on paid administrative leave,” Piazza wrote.

On Nov. 5, the GBI visited the DeKalb County Voter Registration and Elections Office and confiscated voting machines and a server.

If there’s evidence of tampering with the election that could’ve altered the outcome, the result could be thrown out and there would have to be another vote, according to the AJC.

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  • Temotu

    Specifically the AJC says: “The election could be invalidated if a judge finds misconduct, fraud or irregularities *that could change the result*, according to Georgia law.”
    Importantly, that seems to imply that any irregularities that add up to something substantially less than the 136 vote margin would NOT result in a re-vote.

  • Tom Doolittle

    …so Piazza is some kind of good guy that gets hammered for doing the right thing everywhere he goes? Is that what everyone’s getting from this? If not, dear readers, pls tell me what you get from this.

    • Jamgriot

      That as a part of their investigation the GBI should be taking a look at Mr. Piazza’s activities before, during and after the elections. The outcome of the elections changed the projections for a lot of businesses who were hoping to do business with the new city of Lavista Hills. Anytime there is big money involved, nothing should be taken at face value.

      • Tom Doolittle

        Intriguing. What led you to that idea from what was in the article?

        • Jamgriot

          Not necessarily from the article, but there were a lot of not so well hidden agendas at play in this referendum. All the pundits thought that the “Lavista Hills Yes” vote was a done deal. The outcome of this elections has far reaching implications, and meant back to the drawing board for Fran Millar and his Republican colleagues in the state house. Any objective investigation cannot rule out the possibility of a subterfuge.

          • Tom Doolittle

            I’m trying to think of anyone who could be considered a viable pundit for a highly localized election (or anything else in this area).
            By definition, the inherent problem with forming a city here is that the area is completely incomprehensible by any traditional or mainstream standards. If that wasn’t the case there wouldn’t have been a mapping controversy (stemming from not being a community of interest).
            A real pundit would acknowledge that and put a +/- 30% behind any projection he/she might make.
            (1) People “on the ground” knew the election would be the closest cityhood vote yet. (I have never seen an election with as many yard signs in both directions in the same locations);
            (2) There was a viably operated (and funded) “against” lobby; and
            (3)LVH leaders were sweating it out primarily because there was no way to get reliable voter intel.
            (4)Anyone could see that three years of media and tries/retries would only INCREASE turnout, thereby favoring “no city” votes. (Note–Tucker had a much lower turnout and had a victory margin on par with Dunwoody).
            (5)Wlldcards abound–(ex: no one could have foreseen LVH’s spassed-out robo call campaign as backfiring.)

            What pundits are you referring to? There isn’t any credible source.

          • Jamgriot

            Your response curiously focused on the minor point of my comments. Maybe I should have said “self-styled” pundits. That would have included you and Dan Whisenhut who both predicted a victory for “Lavista Hills Yes”. I am curious to know what you think of Fran Millar’s overreaching interest in the Lavista Hills initiative, which in my opnion complete removes any pretext of non-partisanship on the part of LVH supporters, particularly those in the Lavista Hills Alliance(former Lakeside).

          • Tom Doolittle

            Yes–for a pundit, I thought you were referring to someone who makes a living and anointed by the media establishment–public broadcasting and the like.

            By “self-styled” I hope that’s different than “self-named”–I’ve never made such a claim. I’m a guy with an opinion,, just as anyone might. Anyone can make an election prediction, but that’s a far cry from saying its a “done deal”. I gave reasons some give, some take and concluded it would be a very close win and ended a very close loss.

            When you dissect the data, the biggest thing that made a difference was a below average turnout in LVH top-scoring precincts. All near the homes and networks of LVH leaders along the Henderson Mill?I 285 belt. Henderson Mill, Hawthorne and Evansdale were 60% plus in favor of LVH–yet the turnout was vastly lower than Lakeside and Oak Grove.

            The one thing those precincts have in common are a ton of registered voters in apartment complexes. They will turn out for a general election, but have absolutely no dog in the hunt for anything remotely having to do with local property values.

            LVH supporters gave them no reason to come out and vote. Lesson learned for next time I guess.

          • Jamgriot

            The apartment dwellers are a lot less conservative than the average homeowner in the Henderson Mill belt. If they had turned out the margin might have been wider in favor of the no vote..

          • Tom Doolittle

            Yes–I’m sure that’s the reason they didn’t get any flyers.

            It would have been interesting to find out how they would vote if someone had given them a reason to show up–In the absence of such an invitation from DeKalb Strong. Then again, if LVH went there and DeKalb Strong heard about it, we might have had a “flyer battle” the same as we had a battle of the yard signs.

          • Jamgriot

            Flyers? As a journalist I am assuming that you have investigated the origin of the flyer in question, or are you endorsing an unsubstantiated allegation? Skepticism is an invaluable trait for any journalist. It’s usually a precursor to seeking the truth.

          • Tom Doolittle

            Jam-man. I wasn’t referring to any particular flyer. I was suggesting a message could be distributed to renters that would be designed to lay out reasons for them to vote for a city…and in the opposite case, would find it interesting if DeKalb Strong did the same. (In fact, I have no real evidence except one person’s testimony that this wasn’t attempted).

            You seem to be picking a fight here. I have no idea what I wrote that pissed you off. You appear to misunderstand who I am and the reasons I write.

            I invite you to meet me in person if there’s something you want me to understand or information you want to impart that would worth writing about or distributing to others.

            My phone # is 770-908-8583. My real name is Tom Doolittle. I would appreciate learning yours.

          • Jamgriot

            You are unnecessarily personalizing a minor difference of opinion. If you were less cryptic in your response I might not have misunderstood you.

          • Tom Doolittle

            My name is Tom Doolittle. Feel free to call me anytime and we can discuss anything you like.

    • Tom Doolittle

      Bernie–the above is actually what I took from the story. I agree with you–can be taken different ways. That’s the reason I asked for other interpretations because I realized that–and I had a feeling people would fit this into their own narrative and preferences. It is that way because Dan reported it plain vanilla–nothing implied. Journalists have may choose the stories they report on (with help from their bosses–in this case Dan is the boss)–but one primary criteria is a “hot” topic and not to steer public opinion. I do think the AJC as a monopoly and ownership that is part of the power structure keeps big players out of the news (I have examples)–and say, Marietta Journal and Dunwoody Crier is just a shill for the Chamber of Commerce, but that’s not the same as CHOOSING an issue and slanting the coverage–its simply not happening here.

  • notapunk

    I had some time today at the airport, so I did a little Googling. Here’s much more on the Luzerne County situation. It involves Home Rule, time clocks, RNA, DNA, threatened plants and “missing” emails.

    Luzerne County didn’t comply with an open records request for Piazza’s emails. The last paragraph is unbelievable.

    Piazza slammed his replacement online

    and in his lawsuit

    of which two counts were tossed out this summer.

    Piazza’s replacement left the job right before the May primary…but came back after very briefly exploring “another career opportunity.”

    • Concerned Citizen

      Fascinating! Decaturish should do a full account of the back story on what led to Piazza’s termination in Luzerne County, as described in the links provided above.

      The truth is that his termination is MUCH MORE complicated than what is being reported here. Why is Decaturish posting this as the lead story with such little factual detail, if not to leave the impression that Piazza’s credibility should be questioned?

      • You’re assuming motivations where none exist. Anyone making allegations like this should expect to be scrutinized. It doesn’t mean the allegations don’t have merit. I don’t think I’m the only media that has reported this, by the way.

        • Concerned Citizen

          I completely agree that he should be scrutinized, and I’m glad you have. I visit Decaturish regularly for local news. My point is that the story of Piazza’s firing involves much more than what is being reported here, and without those details, it allows the reader to conclude “Oh, he’s done this sort of thing before,” which is unfortunate.

          If what Piazza is alleging now is true, it took a lot of guts and courage. For that reason, I think that any scrutiny of his past employment reported in connection with the LVH vote should fully account for the complicated circumstances of his termination. Anything less allows one to “shoot the messenger” and his message, before all the facts come out, if they ever do.

          So much of the LVH cityhood debate has been about impressions of truth, rather than THE truth. I would hate to see this article used by anyone as further ammunition in such an ugly war. Just my two cents. Thanks.

          • notapunk

            That’s exactly how it’s being used. I would love to sit down with a local, preferably a journalist who covers this beat, over a couple of drinks and get the real skinny. The characters involved must be real gold.

          • Concerned Citizen

            Agreed. Someone in my neighborhood today cited Piazza’s firing in Pennsylvania as evidence that he’s done “this sort of thing” before. Sad, really, how the way in which information is presented can warp the unskeptical mind. I can’t help but think if the referendum had been for anything other than LVH cityhood, Mr. Piazza would be uniformly celebrated as a whistle-blowing hero, and his past employment would be of no interest whatsoever.

          • I promise you, this would be relevant information in any election that is contested. If you make allegations that something criminal has occurred, you should expect to be scrutinized.

          • I also want to add that I’m not looking forward to continuing to referee the grudge match between LVH supporters and opponents.

  • Bernie

    What we see at present are a sensational headline and lots of speculation about Mr. Piazza’s character and motivations based on fragmentary accounts of his history. Does anyone remember Richard Jewell? Dan’s probably too young, but Tom, you aren’t. Mr. Jewell was eventually proven to be the hero of the 1996 Olympics bombing, but not before the media jumped to irresponsible conclusions and tore him to shreds. I don’t know where the truth lies here — none of us do — but let’s exercise a little bit of caution before we start reaching conclusions about Mr. Piazza.

    • I know that story. It’s not the same thing. No one is accusing him of a crime. He is accusing others of criminal activity. That’s a big difference.

      • Samb

        He’s obviously hard-headed, but in the service of process or opportunism? Right now he’s a Rorschach test.

      • Bernie

        Dan, there are some pretty harsh inferences being drawn about Mr. Piazza’s character based on hasty research. Not much different from accusing him of a crime, as far as negative impact on his personal and professional life. I’m not his advocate, and maybe it’s unavoidable, but it’s ugly.

        • Actually, accusing someone of committing a crime is vastly different than noting that someone has been involved in controversies at prior jobs. Maxine Daniels says he was placed on administrative leave due to an unrelated personnel matter. What occurred at his previous job is relevant to her assertion that this had to do with job performance and not the election. If you’ll recall yesterday I reported that Daniels withheld some important information from me when I called asking about this. No one commenting here came to her defense. People want to see the story the way they want to see it. I try to see it objectively and tell it the way it is.

          • MAC

            Dan’s comments here are really at the heart of the issue: the polar circumstances of this whole mess coupled with murky goings on in the aftermath of the elections make it ripe for people to read the situation precisely the way that they want. With the little that the public knows at this point, it’s as possible to read Piazza as heroic as it is to read him complicit (corresponding with Schultz stands out to me, though). Likewise, it’s possible to read Daniels and the Elections Office as an extension of DeKalb corruption as it is to read them as clumsy in managing a strange election with very awkward pieces to it–split precincts, Tucker vs. LVH ballots, in a few cases in the same precinct, a subtle departure from your regular elections. Snafus do happen. Look, I was at a precinct in Tucker on election waiting to see that precinct’s results. My watch said 6:55pm but the poll manager had already announced that the precinct was ready to close–she was going based on the clock on the wall of the auditorium that she used as her marker for opening the polls that morning. One of her colleagues mildly protested saying that the voting equipment clocks we’re not quite 7pm, and they should go by those clocks. And guess what happened? Right THEN, a guy walked in to vote. The manager said, “Sir, the polls are closed!” He whipped out his trusty cellphone and flashed the time in the face of everyone at the table: 6:56pm. He insisted on voting. The manager dug in her heels. It got ugly for a minute with yelling and cussing. Eventually the manager backed down, and allowed the guy to vote. After his vote, he left and the workers started breaking down the machines, but the workers (most of them on the older/senior side of age) fumbled for the longest time with the metal memory cards that seem to be assigned to each machine, but it looked like they had to switch the cards between the machines to download the data for producing the final print tally. One worker couldn’t get the card to enter the machine slots because his hands were weak and trembly, so it took forever to get through the five machines in the precinct. I remember thinking as I’m witnessing all this, “Wow messy a process!” It was only when the allegation story broke that I reflected on what I saw with the cards at the Tucker precinct. I could TOTALLY see how one of those cards could get misplaced because the process itself requires a lot of manipulation of the cards at the voting site when the workers, having pulled a 12-hour day are eager to wrap it up and go home. Mind you, I read nothing underhanded or sketchy in the two incidents (the clock and the cards) that I saw at the precinct–the workers all struck me as honest folk dedicated to doing their job with integrity–they weren’t hiding their actions from me, a citizen observing everything closely and keenly. What I can affirm gets me back to where this post started: had the Tucker results been as close or as contentious as the LVH, the very same incidents that I observed at that precinct, if revealed at the “right” time to the “right” people, would be ripe for all sorts of unsavory interpretations and theories. Change the place, the players and the interpreter, and you get different stories, outcomes, and consequences. Maybe something fraudulent happened with the LVH vote. I don’t know. But I do know that fraud and incompetence are on opposite extremes of each other with a vast grey space in between. Very sorry for the long post.

          • follow the money

            Dan have you tried to get any information regarding the relationship between Mr. Piazza and Shultz? It seems odd to me they would be emailing each other being Mr Shultz is one of the founding members of LVH Alliance. Was this from Mr Piazza personal email or Dekalb? Have you tried asking either one why they were emailing each other?

          • Tom Doolittle

            Dan–this may partly answer the question of “relationship” when taken at face value. I think what “followthemoney” wants is more investigation as to what other POTENTIAL relationship there might be. Seems to me that is not your normal modus.

            One way to approach that is to simply state what we know without much research about Steve Schultz. Some of the following might be relevant and can be selected from, but obviously would be tedious in an article:

            (1) Steve is in the political polling and public relations business and either he or his company is the source of LVH’s robo calls (nothing wrong or implied with that).
            (2 His business is (name) and he has run for State Representative in the Northlake area as a Republican.
            (3) Steve is an anti-tax advocate and has been a Neighborhood Watch Captain in the Evansdale area. These would be unrelated and mostly irrelevant to the article.

            Note: I don’t believe Steve is a board member of LVH, so the only ethical way any relationship with LVH should be reported would be if he was quoted as an advocate from a meeting or a call-in to media.

            All of this information is fair game because of his previous run for office, thus a public figure. There is open advocacy information on the web and posts on the LVH FB page–again all fair game if reported factually (with nothing implied).

            Steve would not argue with any of this or information about his PUBLIC life being introduced here.

            These are just the facts and imply nothing–except one can surmise (INFER, even tho nothing is implied) explain his tenacity and interest in political irregularities.

  • Smarter Than You

    The sore thumb in this story is why would Piazza be emailing Steve Schultz? Shouldn’t he be contacting the Sec. of State’s office where they have a team of election investigators? Mr. Schultz and his company Rosetta Stone have a history in N. Carolina, including a $2000 fine for illegal campaign practices. What is their connection?

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