All’s fair in love and war, and apparently, in Cobb politics these days.
The county has rarely seen a competitive race for clerk in the last two decades. But the contest to succeed retiring incumbent Jay Stephenson has already developed into one of the liveliest on the July 31st primary ballot.
“We’re the only three-ring circus in town right now,” quipped Skelton. “It’s like coming over the top of the ‘Goliath’ ride at Six Flags. Here we go!”
WHAT HAD BEEN EXPECTED to be a hard-fought battle between Keaton and Skelton took its first unexpected turn during the final hour of the final day of qualifying May 25, when Joan Davis — who ran unsuccessfully three times in the 2000s for Cobb Superior Court judge, and who many had earlier expected would run again this year — qualified to run for clerk. Not only that, but since candidates’ names are listed alphabetically on the ballot, that of Davis would be listed first, and in what is usually a low-profile race that many voters know or care little about.
The twist? Ms. Davis was disbarred by the Georgia Supreme Court in February for abandoning a client without telling him she was doing so. So she was ineligible to run for judge. But there’s no law that says the clerk must be a lawyer, or which prevents disbarred lawyers from serving. So Davis is eligible for the clerk’s job.
Even more surprisingly, Davis, who in her judicial contests drew substantial support from her fellow African-Americans, qualified as a Republican for the clerk’s race. (Judicial races are non-partisan, but not so that for clerk.)
Another twist emerged when it came time for Davis to comply with the local requirement that clerk candidates submit to the Cobb Probate Court the name of who their chief deputy would be if elected. The two typically run as a team, even though the name of the deputy does not appear on the ballot, just that of the clerk candidate.
Davis reportedly was unaware of the requirement when she qualified, and then told the Probate Court she would retain Elva Dornbusch, current chief deputy clerk to Stephenson.
Just one problem: Dornbusch is already running as chief deputy to Skelton.
“All I could do when I heard about it was chuckle, but Elva was not pleased at all at having her name hijacked by a candidate she wouldn’t support,” Skelton told Around Town. “She was outraged that Joan would have the audacity to drag her into her campaign. She told me there’s no way she would accept the deputy position from Joan even if Joan won. She said she’d retire first. Joan’s reputation around the courthouse is not positive, and it doesn’t square with (Elva’s) vision of the office. We don’t know how she would run the clerk’s office, but we know how she practiced law, and it was not good.”
THAT WAS NOT THE ONLY development in the final hour of qualifying for the race. Keaton’s pick for deputy clerk was Jason Shepherd, former attorney for the Cobb Republican Party, whose name she originally submitted to the Probate judge. But with the clock ticking down last Friday, she unexpectedly resubmitted her paperwork, dropping Shepherd and substituting Kimberly Carroll, longtime administrative assistant for Cobb Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs.
Shepherd said the decision “was not expected and came as a bit of a shock.”
Shepherd was briefly the subject of controversy late in his 2010 attempt to unseat incumbent state Rep. Terry Johnson (D-Fair Oaks) after the Georgia Democratic Party unearthed documents showing the challenger had been arrested a decade earlier on a domestic violence charge. Shepherd explained that the accusation was made by a girlfriend who was angered by his attempt to break off their relationship. The charges were dropped when Shepherd volunteered to enter counseling, Johnson went on to narrowly defeat Shepherd 53 percent to 47 percent.
If that factored into Keaton’s decision, she wasn’t saying so.
“Kimberly has been employed with Judge Grubbs for over 20 years with approximately 15 years of that experience in Superior Court,” she told AT. “As a result, she is extremely familiar with the Clerk’s office and its staff. I needed someone of her personality and talents on my ticket. There is no one more liked, more trusted or more qualified, than Kimberly.”
Shepherd also told AT that after Davis qualified, Keaton told him she needed to “do something different.”
“With that, Rebecca decided to swap the roles she wanted for me and Kimberly. Her original plan was to have me as chief deputy and Kimberly as deputy clerk,” said Shepherd, who said he still supports Keaton’s candidacy. He added that he found out about the switch four hours after it had taken place.
Meanwhile, Skelton told AT Keaton had offered him the chief deputy job in mid-May.
“It was in a face-to-face conversation after the Cobb County Republican Women’s Club Luncheon at the Marietta Conference Center on May 18. I was pretty surprised at the offer, to say the least,” he told AT.
BUT BACK to the ostensible “Skelton for Clerk” website. Skelton told AT that when trying to set up a campaign website this winter, he learned the “JohnSkeltonforClerk.com” was already taken.
“There are other John Skeltons around, but I thought the odds of there being another John Skelton running for clerk somewhere were pretty steep,” he said. “Then when I clicked on it, it took me directly to her site.”
(For the record, her official site is www.rebeccaforclerk.com.) And her move was perfectly legal, he said.
“I admired her pluck,” he told AT. “Would I have done it that way? No. That’s where we differ. I’ll just let it speak for itself.”
He wound up with a campaign site that incorporates his middle initial: www.johnhskeltonforclerk.com. And he has taken it all in stride.
“This way, I get all the name recognition from both sites!” he said.
ONE OF COBB’S best-remembered educators, Kermit Keenum, was back in town this week with wife, Billie, for the high-school graduations of two of their grandchildren. Keenum got his start as a teacher in the Marietta system, later was principal at North Cobb High and then helmed the Cobb superintendent from 1973-80 and again from 1989-92.
Keenum eventually retired to Booneville in northeast Mississippi, where he had grown up as one of seven children of a subsistence-level farmer.
Along the way he helped found a successful bank and several other businesses. He’s now finishing a memoir that should be on the shelves by year end, with the title, “From Sharecropper to Shareholder in One Generation,” he told AT.
THE COBB COUNTY CIVIC COALITION will hold a forum for Cobb Commission chair candidates from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday July 10 in the Commissioners Meeting Room, 100 Cherokee St. in Marietta, reports President Ron Sifen. ...
The MDJ’s Joe Kirby is speaking this morning to the Experimental Aircraft Association at Briscoe Field in Lawrenceville about his new book, “The Lockheed Plant.”
BARN DANCE: U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta) is hosting what is being billed as the first “Conservative Family Roundup and Barn Dance” from 5 to 8 p.m. this evening at the barn at Rustix Manor in Woodstock, the spread owned by Steve Marcinko. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Rep. Tom Price (R-Roswell) are also expected to attend.
FUNERAL SERVICES are today for the late John W. Edwards, 88, of Marietta. The Kentucky native, one of 11 children, was born in a log cabin and later graduated from Duke University.
He spent most of his career working for Lockheed, where he was deputy design engineer on the C-5A and B.
His wife, the late Juanelle Edwards, served for years as a member of the Democratic National Committee and was never at a loss for words — most of them pointed — with which to describe Republicans. Her wit graced the pages of the MDJ many times in the late 2000s and led publisher Otis Brumby Jr. to christen her Cobb’s “Lewis Grizzard in pantyhose.”
Also memorable was the morning when, after failing to receive her MDJ, she dialed the newsroom and (perhaps) jokingly asked for someone to “just read it to me.”