Commission requests removal of Republican, Democrat election board positions

Matthew Strother

February 19, 2014

County Commissioners in an unannounced move Tuesday voted to request the elimination of the local Republican and Democratic parties’ nominations to the Board of Elections and Registration.

The move would drop the board from seven members to five, which commissioners said was more consistent with other elections boards in the state.

“Most board of elections around the state are three to five members,” said County Manager Tod Tentler during Tuesday’s meeting. “We do have a seven-member elections board.”

Tentler told the Daily News after the meeting that the positions shouldn’t be eliminated immediately, since an election period is upcoming, but wasn’t sure if the appointees would complete their appointed terms. The county will have to draft local legislation to make the change, which will have to be approved by state delegates to make the move official.

The Democratic appointee is Lonnie Hollis and the Republican appointee is Ellen Gilmore. Gilmore was appointed to a term that expires at the end of this year and Hollis’ term expires in 2015.

Gilmore said the move was an obvious attempt to take her off the board.

“They’ve been trying to get rid of me,” Gilmore said. “… But now ol’ Ricky (Wolfe, County Commission chairman) is willing to sacrifice the Democratic appointee to board to do it – that’s just diabolical.”

Gilmore had been under fire last year after emails between her and Probate Judge Donald Boyd, who formerly was in charge of elections, criticizing the Board of Elections became public. Commissioners publicly stated that the emails undermined the board’s credibility and asked the Board of Elections and Registration to “take appropriate action” on the matter.

The BOER responded by asking Gilmore to resign, which she refused to do. The BOER then left the matter up to the County Commission, which could have petitioned to have Gilmore removed, but never took further action on the matter.

However, Wolfe told the Daily News after Tuesday’s meeting that “this is not about Ellen Gilmore at all – zero, none.”

Wolfe said commissioners felt that the two partisan positions didn’t add anything constructive to the Board of Elections and Registrations’ process.

“There are two positions on that board that are partisan, and we’re asking to remove them because we don’t believe that it adds any validity or credibility to the elections process,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe said he and other commissioners had discussed the idea previously. He said the discussions were outside of public meetings, but did not include a quorum of commissioners.

“We constantly are having conversations about ways to make things better,” Wolfe said. “We do not congregate in a majority setting and we do not communicate in any way where a majority is present. We constantly congregate on ways to make things better.”

Board of Elections chairman Jane McCoy said she was unaware Commissioners would vote on the matter Tuesday and was not at the Commission meeting. She said the request is within the Commission’s purview, but said BOER members carry out their duties of making sure elections are legal without political motivation, even if they have a political background.

She said that Troup County’s seven-member board was considered unusual by Kennesaw State University, and five members is more consistent with other area boards.

Hollis said she felt the request was unnecessary.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” she said of the way the Commissioners handled the move. “Most everybody else does that (have appointments from the local political parties) and I don’t know why we wouldn’t have that here.”

Hollis said the Commission may be trying to improve the board’s bylaws and operation, but felt members went about it the wrong way.

“Never did they come to any of the board members and ask any questions about it,” Hollis said. “I worked with the board of elections in Atlanta for several years, and I am familiar with the process.”

The vote to request dropping the two appointees was not on Tuesday’s agenda. Gilmore, McCoy and Hollis said they had heard rumors of the Commission considering the move, but Tuesday’s vote was unexpected.

“It had not been discussed publicly. (Wolfe) just brought up the partisan issue of the election board and said he would need motion from board to eliminate the Democratic appointee and Republican party appointee from board,” Gilmore said. “It just came right out of blue. It was not on the agenda or anything.”

The following occurred at the Commission meeting:

Commissioners were discussing a request for compensation for the BOER, a decision they eventually tabled for further review, when the request was proposed. Wolfe asked Tentler, who had compared Troup’s to other elections boards for the pay request, what the trend was for political party representatives on the board.

“There was really no trend - each board is set up differently,” Tentler responded. “Some used local party representation, most of them used county appointments, many used city appointments and a combination of all those types of ways of doing it. The only thing kind of different about ours is that we do have more members than most other boards of communities our size.”

Tentler said of the 35 various boards in Troup County, two are paid and required to be by state law. He said four elections boards from across the state responded to his request for information, and three of those were paid boards. He said the BOER members currently can be reimbursed for any expenses for attending approved training or meetings if they request it.

“This issue of partisan appointments to this board, if that is an issue that this body wants to take up, would that require local legislation to do so,” Wolfe asked Tentler, who said it would have to be done within 30 days into the legislative session.

“… That would mean no longer does the Troup County Republican Party and the Troup County Democratic Party have an appointee to that body,” Wolfe said to the commissioners. “… If we want to move forward with that, it needs to come forward in a motion to ask Tod (Tentler) to put that local legislation together.”

Commissioner Buck Davis made the motion.

“There is a motion to eliminate two partisan positions from that board, it would be … no longer having a Republican representative or a Democratic representative. It would drop the members of that board from seven to five. There is a motion for that, is there a second?”

“Mr. Chairman, I would like to say that I think it’s very important that we keep one Republican and one Democratic person on this board from our local entities,” said Commissioner Tripp Foster.

“There is a motion, is there a second,” Wolfe repeated.

Commissioner Morris Jones seconded the motion. Wolfe called for a vote, with Foster the only opposed.

— Staff writer Asia Ashley attended Tuesday’s County Commission meeting and contributed to this report.