Cochise County Elections Director Threatens To Resign Due To “Unpleasant” Workplace

Lisa Marra

The Cochise County Elections Director appears to have not actually resigned from her position Tuesday, despite media reports to the contrary.

Instead, Lisa Marra’s attorney issued a “constructive discharge notice” to a handful of county staffers, giving officials 15 days to resolve various issues the attorney says have forced Marra to deal with “difficult and unpleasant” job conditions.

The attorney makes no mention of a specific resignation date. In fact, the notice provided under Arizona Revised Statue 23-1502 allows Marra to reserve the right to stay in her position if certain unspecified actions are taken by the county.

In the meantime, it appears Marra -who is not an elected county official- is continuing in her role as head of the Election Officials of Arizona organization.

One concern with Marra’s threat to resign is that Cochise County has a significant all-mail election coming up May 16 about financing a new jail. Ballots for all 55 of the county’s precincts must be designed and printed several weeks prior, raising questions about how the county’s board of supervisors will ensure election deadlines are met.

Marra has frequently referred to receiving threats and harassment in connection with her job. In one instance Marra had an attorney threaten a journalist with legal action for contributing to those threats by reporting on Marra’s official duties.

That attorney provided no examples of such threats, and the Cochise County Attorney’s Office has not released public records related to Marra’s claims despite a request filed in August 2022.

Tuesday’s notice to county officials refers to a “physically and emotionally threatening” environment as well as “outrageous” conduct in the workplace that has allegedly put Marra’s safety at risk and damaged her professional reputation.

The attorney also references the fact Cochise County’s elected board of supervisors is expected to discuss in the coming weeks whether to reorganize the county’s elections responsibilities under the County Recorder, which is also an elected office.

County taxpayers have paid a private law firm more than $30,000 to represent Marra after she opposed a plan by the supervisors to expand a ballot hand count following the 2022 General Election.

Two of the supervisors also initiated a short-lived lawsuit against Marra in connection with her duties. That decision is the subject of a complaint filed with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office as there was no publicly announced board vote and the other supervisor was not advised of the plan.

If Marra does opt to formally resign, one question for county officials is whether she will be permitted access to her office during the final days of employment.

Some employers do not allow a resigning employee to continue working through their notice period, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

SHRM attorney Allen Smith wrote last year that some employers immediately terminate a quitting employee. This is particularly a concern when the employee is not leaving on good terms or has access to sensitive information, according to Smith.

Another option is to place the departing employee on what is often referred to as garden leave.

Employment attorney Christopher Durham told Smith that garden leave involves relieving an employee of day-to-day job duties and access to confidential information during their paid notice period. The employee may or may not also be required to respond to limited questions related to those duties.