For now, Richard Barron is keeping his position as director of the Fulton County Department of Registration and Elections, even though he was fired by the Fulton Board of Registration and Elections.
The elections board’s decision must be approved by the board of commissioners, which has some members who want to keep Barron but others who believe the board of commissioners should respect the elections board’s decision, which came by a 3-2 vote at its Feb. 16 special called meeting, and move on.
“This politicization of the elections process is not needed now,” District 2 Commissioner Bob Ellis said. “We need to come together and look at the interim director and hiring a new permanent director.”
But at its Feb. 17 recess meeting, which took place virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the board of commissioners’ two votes to accept and reject the elections board’s move to terminate Barron each failed 3-3, since it didn’t get the required four votes to be approved. Commissioner Natalie Hall was absent at the first/accept vote, which Ellis motioned for and Hausmann seconded.
District 5 Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr. then made a substitute motion to reject the election’s board’s decision.
Before the second vote, Robb Pitts’ the board of commissioners’ chair, said, “The county attorney is researching the issue. Typically when the matter is before the board and it does not receive the four votes for approval, then it comes back on the next agenda, or at the same meeting, another motion can be made, which is what Mr. Arrington is doing.
“However, when talking about that with the county attorney, the conversation went something like this: if it has failed and there’s nothing actually before the board, but that’s not what has happened in the past, which I’ve explained to her over the last couple of days.”
Hall abstained during the second/reject vote, saying she wasn’t sure the measure may not have been voted on correctly.
“This hasn’t even been presented to us with a proper motion,” Hall said.
Arrington and District 6 Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman, who seconded his motion said they supported Barron being reinstated as the director.
During the meeting’s public comment portion, of the nine individuals speaking, with some doing so in anticipation of the board of commissioners possibly voting to reject the elections board’s decision, three were in favor of Barron being reinstated and three supported his firing.
So as long as the elections board’s decision stands, Barron’s firing will remain. The board of commissioners may vote on the issue at its next meeting March 3.
Regarding her decision to part ways with Barron, Vernetta Keith Nuriddin, vice chair of county’s board of registrations and elections, said, “For me personally, my decision was based on not 2020’s election (cycle) but 2017, 2018, 2019.”
State Elections Deputy Director Blake Evans, Fulton’s former elections chief under Barron, has been recommended to serve as the interim director.
Barron has been criticized for how he managed past Fulton elections, especially the June primary, when residents waited up to five hours to vote due to problems at the polls, putting the county in the national media spotlight.
But following that election, the director was praised for how he handled the November general election and the January runoff for the state’s two U.S. Senate seats and a Public Service Commission post, both of which went more smoothly.
However, in November, the secretary of state’s office opened two investigations into that month’s election. Gabriel Sterling, the office’s COO, said there were issues with Fulton’s “chain of custody” regarding votes and “managerial sloppiness” with the department’s handling of a water leak at State Farm Arena.
In a Feb. 18 interview, District 3 Commissioner Lee Morris, who supports the elections board’s move, said he voted that way partly because he believes that group is “an independent board and we ought not to overrule that decision.”
“Also, it seems to me that when someone has lost the confidence of the board to which he reports, it’s a fairly untenable situation for the future cooperation and relationship in that department,” Morris said.