Richard Barron remains as the Fulton County Department of Registration and Elections’ director, but it’s unclear how long he will stay in that role.
“I think it’s unfortunate today that a significant portion of time was devoted today to a public performance appraisal of Richard Barron,” District 2 Fulton Commissioner Bob Ellis said, adding he believes the county’s board of commissioners should respect and uphold the Fulton Board of Registration and Elections’ Feb. 16 decision to fire Barron.
But at its March 3 meeting, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the board of commissioners voted 4-3 to reject the elections board’s choice. The vote fell along party lines, with Democrats Robb Pitts (chair) and Natalie Hall, Marvin Arrington Jr. and Khadijah Abdur-Rahman (Districts 4, 5 and 6) casting yes ballots and Republicans Ellis, Liz Hausmann and Lee Morris (Districts 1 and 3) dissenting.
One day after the elections board voted 3-2 to terminate Barron, at the board of commissioners’ recess meeting, its two 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.
Those votes also fell along party lines, and Hall was absent at the first/accept vote, which Ellis motioned for and Hausmann seconded. Hall abstained during the second/reject vote, saying she wasn’t sure the measure may not have been voted on correctly. At the March 3 meeting, Hall seconded Abdur-Rahman’s motion to reject the elections board’s move.
“I needed more information and I obtained that information. Let the record show that it is not based on opinion. It’s based on facts,” she said. “It is based on the performance evaluations of 2019 and 2020 and 2021. Mr. Barron received high performance ratings. … We have not overstepped our powers. We have an opinion from our county attorney (Kaye Burwell) that says we have the power and authority to do this. It is unfortunate that our previous county attorney (Patrise Perkins-Hooker) did give us an opinion that was opposite of that.”
Ellis said while the commissioners have differing opinions on the job Barron did since taking on the director’s role in 2013, they should uphold the elections board’s decision, given it is also a bipartisan body.
Residents voicing their opinion on the issue are also split. During the 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.
Later in the meeting, Ellis’ proposed resolution to make clear the board of commissioners’ authority and intent regarding the elections board’s termination powers was tabled by a 4-3 vote, with the Democrats voting yes and the Republicans no.
Though Burwell said Barron’s firing would not be bulletproof if the resolution was approved, Abdur-Rahman and Arrington objected to the idea of the resolution giving the elections board the authority to fire its director without the board of commissioners’ approval.
In other election news, the board of commissioners voted 5-0 to approve Alex Wan as the elections board’s new chair to replace Mary Cooney, who resigned the previous week. Ellis and Hausmann were absent. All of the elections board members’ terms, which are two years each, expire June 30.
Finally, Pitts and other county leaders presented recommendations to the elections board for an elections improvement plan. Brigitte Bailey, Fulton’s director of customer experience, said the county evaluated the department’s operations and came up with 29 recommendations total across the operational, administrative and education and outreach categories. Those proposals were also based on the results of a November general election voter survey, which gave high marks to Fulton.
“The average wait time was less than 15 minutes, and there was a 98.8% voter satisfaction rating,” Bailey said.
The 29 recommendations were narrowed down to the most critical six, which, according to the presentation document, were: “review of the departmental leadership structure, election central (building a centralized warehouse and offices), development of standard operating procedures, automated elections project plan, implementation of an inventory and tracking system and defend voter rights and accessibility without restrictions.”
Barron said the elections board has been involved in the planning process, and some of those proposals are already under way.