061720_MNS_primary_election_007 Richard Davis with voters

Clerk Richard Davis, center, helps a woman cast her ballot as other residents vote in the June 9 primary election at the Church of the Redeemer in Sandy Springs.

Happy Faces Personnel Group, a Tucker-based staffing service, has been invaluable to Fulton County for its election workers, said its elections chief.

Though the county has been criticized for its reliance on temporary workers, Richard Barron, Fulton’s director of elections and registration, said Happy Faces saves the county money due to the fact that starting around 2015, its supplemental staff could no longer work as full-time employees because of the Affordable Cares Act’s definition of full-timers as anyone working at least 30 hours a week.

“With overtime demands, compliance demands, we would have to double our workforce, if not triple it in big elections,” Barron said. “We needed flexibility and efficiency in the hiring process.”

He spoke at the Fulton Board of Commissioners’ June 2 meeting at Assembly Hall in downtown Atlanta, where Happy Faces was up for a $7.7 million contract to provide temporary workers for the 2021 county elections.

But after the vote to approve the contract failed 3-2 at the board’s May 19 recess meeting, it failed again 3-2 at the June 2 meeting.

Commissioners Robb Pitts (chair), Natalie Hall and Marvin Arrington Jr. (Districts 4 and 5) voted yes, Commissioners Liz Hausmann and Bob Ellis (Districts 1 and 2) voted no, District 3 Commissioner Lee Morris abstained and District 6 Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman was absent.

Of the 187 individuals submitting remarks during the public comment period, 16 said they supported it and seven opposed it. At the May 19 recess meeting, where 120 individuals spoke, 67 said they oppose the Happy Faces contract and none said they supported it. The residents speaking out against Happy Faces, a minority-owned business, said it’s a partisan organization.

Some residents and officials criticized Happy Faces for a perceived high number of non-Fulton residents being hired to work at its elections, but Barron said 87% of its temporary hires live in the county.

Barron said the county, on average, hires about 2,600 civic and county-filled works, and uses Happy Faces to hire another 300 to 400 temporary filled employees.

“Happy Faces over time has always gone over and above to help us,” he said. “Last year put many demands on us, especially in the technical arena. On their own they partnered with (another company) to make sure we got technical staff. If we had unfilled positions, Happy Faces (is) … very efficient for us. They have had a state of Georgia contract for 20 years (and Fulton) for seven.”

Barron added Happy Faces is saving the county more than $6 million for its 2022 elections under a plan to use the agency then.

“They’ve also been used in vaccine outreach, senior services and community development,” he said. “They have been successfully provided (elections) staffing since 2015. If we brought these people in through HR and finance department and hired them as full-time or part-time staff, we would have to hire 10 more people each to handle these people that would have to be added to the department of registration and elections.

“If we went through HR in recruiting new staff, it would be a 50-day process. But through Happy Faces, if we let someone go, they could be replaced within 24 hours.”

As he had at the May 19 recess meeting, Ellis cited a report from Seven Hills Strategies, the firm that hired independent monitor Carter Jones to spend days watching the county’s voting process before and during the Nov. 3 general election as part of a consent order between the county and State Election Board.

In the Jan. 12 report, Jones said Fulton has relied too heavily on temp agencies for its elections staffing, that some of its temporary workers, who may live outside the county, don’t care about the elections process, leading to errors and other problems at the polls.

In other election news, the board voted 6-0 to reappoint Alex Wan as chair of the Fulton Board of Elections and Registration after the agenda item was held at the May 19 recess meeting. Wan was appointed to the position in March after Mary Carole Cooley resigned prior to completing her term, which ends June 30.

Cooley stepped down after the elections board’s February firing of Barron was not approved by the board of commissioners. Wan’s two-year term will begin July 1.

During the meeting’s public comment period, 112 individuals said they supported Wan’s reappointment and none said they opposed it. But at the meeting two weeks earlier, 57 individuals said they oppose Wan’s reappointment and none said they supported it.

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