Jeramey Jannene

Former Top Election Official Signs Settlement With City

Claire Woodall will serve in remote, 'associate director' role until early August.

By - May 28th, 2024 05:41 pm
Mayor Cavalier Johnson speaks at a November 2022 press conference while Claire Woodall looks on. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson speaks at a November 2022 press conference while Claire Woodall looks on. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Claire Woodall will remain in city employment for three more months, even after Mayor Cavalier Johnson dumped her as head of the Milwaukee Election Commission.

Johnson publicly revealed on May 6 that he was replacing Woodall with her deputy Paulina Gutierrez. The surprising change came as Johnson must renominate all of his cabinet members for council confirmation following the April election. It also followed Woodall being publicly critical of unnamed commission employees in March who mailed the wrong ballots to 220 voters.

Woodall, according to a settlement, will now serve in an advisory role through Aug. 9 to “support a positive transition.”

The remote-only role of “associated director” includes a restriction that Woodall is only to communicate with Gutierrez.

Woodall is to be paid $5,099 on a bi-weekly basis, the equivalent of $132,574 annually and a rate approximate with what she was most recently paid. She is also to be paid for her accrued vacation time.

As part of the agreement, Woodall and Johnson may not disparage each other for a period of two years. Woodall may also not make disparaging comments about any members of Johnson’s cabinet or mayoral office staff, nor may they about her. A $5,000 fine is to be levied for violating the agreement.

As part of the agreement, Woodall agrees not to sue the city for anything related to her employment. On Aug. 9 she is to submit a resignation with the reason listed as “personal.” The resignation and settlement eliminate any civil service protections she would have stemming from prior roles with the city.

Woodall joined the Milwaukee Election Commission in 2013 and was appointed executive director in 2020. She succeeded Neil Albrecht, whom she previously described as a mentor and who continued to help administer elections following his departure from the post. Prior to being appointed director, Woodall spent eight months as the City of Cedarburg’s clerk.

She signed the agreement on May 15, nine days after news broke of Johnson appointing Gutierrez.

Guiterrez has been with the commission through the 2023 and 2024 spring elections, but has never worked in a key role during a high-turnout midterm or presidential election. She was appointed deputy in February 2023.

Gutierrez previously worked in several public safety-related roles, including with the city and state. Her appointment is subject to Common Council confirmation.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the three appointed election commissioners expressed their confidence in Gutierrez.

“We are proud of the Mayor’s thoughtful selection, as we have every reason to believe that Paulina possesses the exceptional leadership skills, administrative expertise, and commitment to public service necessary to excel in this critical role,” said the commissioners. “The Mayor’s appointment of Paulina Gutiérrez is a testament to her dedication to ensuring the integrity and effectiveness of our municipal elections. We are confident that Paulina’s extensive experience in public administration will enable her to navigate the complexities of our election processes with fairness, security, and accuracy.”

The current commissioners are Democrats Terrell Martin and Patricia Ruiz-Cantu and Republican Douglas Haag.

According to an internal city email from June 2023, Woodall was previously working to create a different city job involving voter engagement. After this article was published, Woodall told Urban Milwaukee she pursued the role due to a family matter but was later told she was needed to lead the commission.

In early May, the mayor’s office said Woodall was told prior to Johnson’s public announcement she needed to decide whether to accept the other position, but did not respond. Woodall, on May 28, said it was a different position that was later offered and the offer was made after she was informed she would not be reappointed. She said she did respond, but declined to accept a position that was unfunded in the city budget and did not yet exist. A job description document describes it as a “civic engagement director” role.

Earlier this month, a mayoral spokesperson said Woodall was aware Gutierrez was being given the commission director role and had previously suggested her when discussing the other position. Woodall was not being reappointed for “multiple reasons” according to a mayoral spokesperson who declined to discuss personnel specifics.

Woodall was the subject of several personal attacks and threats during her time as director, largely owing to the city’s high-profile role in state elections. Despite repeated attempts to explain the nature of the central count process to sort and tabulate absentee ballots, the late-night reporting of absentee ballots has invited repeated conspiracy theories about election fraud. Johnson, in limited comments about the Woodall change, has made it clear it was not related to the administering of elections.

Gutierrez’s nomination is now pending before the Common Council.

UPDATE: This article was updated after Woodall provided additional comments on the June 2023 role.

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Categories: City Hall, Politics

5 thoughts on “Former Top Election Official Signs Settlement With City”

  1. tornado75 says:

    i cannot believe that johnson got rid of claire woodall. she is a terrific leader who inspired admiration and respect from election workers and the public. what a silly thing to do, johnson

  2. says:

    I agree w/Tornado75. Bad time to bring on a rookie to manage the biggest election in recent memory. Chevy got some thin skin?

  3. George Wagner says:

    I agree. I’ve worked several elections under Woodall’s direction and always found her to be a good listener, on top of complicated election rules, brave under threats, and patient with critics. Of course, we don’t know the whole story, but this looks like a very bad move on Johnson’s part, firing – let’s call it what it is – a very competent administrator during this most crucial election season..

  4. DAGDAG says:

    Something wanky happened here…and this non-disclosure crap sure hints as a coverup of something. And, to use Mr. Johnsons favorite word when things go bad…it is ” u n a c c e p t a b l e.” Let alone, how are people supposed to believe that in an election year… with so much at stake… that both political party sides are not going to have a field day questioning this change at this time? Johnson has more explaining to do, because something is being hidden here.

  5. blurondo says:

    The settlement says it all. The mayor had to make someone at City Hall (maybe himself) feel better about a dispute among personalities. Sadly, Woodall was the sacrificial lamb. Claire, you deserve to leave with your head held high. Thank you for your service.
    p.s. In 2 years you can write your book.

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