The debate over whether or not Richard Barron’s termination as Fulton County’s registration and elections director should be rejected rages on.
“I have heard from a wide range of my constituents that said we should not be engaged in personnel decisions regarding the elections supervisor. … So I am expressing that here,” said District 2 Fulton Commissioner Bob Ellis, who sponsored a resolution stating the board of commissioners supports the appointment, hiring and firing powers of the county’s board of registration and elections, in essence upholding Barron’s dismissal.
District 5 Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr. sponsored a counter resolution stating the board of commissioners’ rejects the elections board’s decision. But at the board of commissioners’ March 17 recess meeting, which took place virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, neither was voted on after Chair Robb Pitts motioned to hold those resolutions until County Attorney Kaye Burwell weighed in on the issue’s legality, and it was approved 4-0.
Democrats Pitts, Arrington, Natalie Hall and Khadijah Abdur-Rahman (Districts 4 and 7) voted yes and Republicans Ellis, Liz Hausmann and Lee Morris (Districts 1 and 3) abstained.
Barron was fired by the elections board at its Feb. 16 meeting. At the board of commissioners’ recess meeting the following day, that group’s votes to accept and reject the elections board’s decision each failed 3-3, since the group didn’t get the required four votes to be approved. Hall was absent for the first vote and then abstained for the second, saying she needed more information first.
But at its March 3 meeting, the board of commissioners voted 4-3 to reject the elections board’s choice. The vote again fell along party lines, with Democrats casting yes ballots and Republicans dissenting.
At issue is the legality of the board of commissioners’ decision to reject Barron’s firing, with Burwell saying it does, but her predecessor, Patrise Perkins-Hooker, who retired in January, saying it doesn’t. In speaking about his resolution, Ellis said it wouldn’t change the board of commissioners’ vote to reject Barron’s firing but will put into record the group’s stance on that decision.
“It would just set in course a resolution to have us codify, by action by us or by the (state) Legislature, that these particular powers of the (elections board) would rest within and we would have no involvement with that,” he said. “… I recognized there may be differences of opinions on it. I am looking at this overwhelmingly.
“If we are going to exercise powers that usurp the (elections board) that we ultimately are engaging in action which basically ices that board, neuters them, renders them useless and really calls into question our elections.”
In motioning to hold the two resolutions, Pitts said he believes it’s important to wait to vote until Burwell’s office presents to the board of commissioners a report on the legality of the issue and to clean up language regarding how the group stands on issues once it approves resolutions or ordinances in general.
“I think we need to be consistent on this,” he said. “Sometimes it says the board ‘ratifies (or) supports.’ I think we should get this report, all recognizing we should have consistent language.”
Residents voicing their opinion on the issue are also split. During the March 3 meeting’s public comment portion, 12 of the 37 individuals speaking said they were in favor of Barron’s firing being upheld, and 11 said they were against it. At the March 17 meeting, 24 residents spoke in favor of his termination and four opposed it.
“I support the board of elections and registration’s actions,” Thomas Bose of Alpharetta said. “No other county in the state allows this. Fulton should not either. It only makes Fulton County look corrupt. I urge you to strongly support the board of elections.”
Barron remains as the director, and the issue could eventually go before a judge or the state to be settled.