MACON, Ga. — A legal battle over who has the authority to choose the next Macon-Bibb County elections supervisor could be irrelevant under a bill introduced this week in the Georgia Senate.
Senators John Kennedy and Rick Williams are sponsoring changes to the legislative act that created the Bibb County Board of Elections in 1969 that says the mayor and county commission, “upon the recommendation of the board of elections,” shall appoint an elections supervisor. If approved, Senate Bill 227 would give clear authority to the mayor and commission to select and appoint the elections supervisor.
In August, the Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections sued Mayor Lester Miller and county commissioners to keep them from selecting an elections supervisor that has not been recommended by the Board of Elections.
Miller has maintained that the ultimate responsibility for choosing a supervisor rests with the mayor and county commission since the consolidated charter required the governing body to approve and appoint a supervisor candidate.
Miller told The Macon Newsroom he “fully supports the bill.”
“Since this is a local act and not a change to the charter, no commission input or vote is necessary,” Miller said in a text.
When asked who submitted the bill to the local delegation, the mayor texted: “I haven’t submitted anything to them. … I think they were aware of issues between the county and (board of elections) and spoke with county attorneys.”
Kennedy and Interim County Attorney Duke Groover are law partners.
Thursday, The Macon Newsroom left a message with Sen. Kennedy’s Atlanta office and also emailed him and Sen. Williams to inquire about the bill, but neither responded before publication of this article.
Crossover day, the 30th day of the 40-day session, is expected to be March 8, which is the last day a bill can pass one legislative body and be sent to the other for consideration and possible final approval.
Friday, the chairman of the elections board, Mike Kaplan, said no one asked him about the proposal and he knew nothing about it.
“I don’t think it’s the right thing to do, but it’s not up to me,” Kaplan said. “I don’t think we ought to involve politicians in the selection process because then it becomes political. And if the mayor doesn’t like who she is, or who he is, because of a political sway, he can get rid of her. It was originally written to keep politics out of it and now they’re trying to involve politics.”
The bill pending in the Georgia General Assembly states: “The governing authority of Macon-Bibb County shall select and appoint a person whose title shall be ‘elections supervisor’ who shall be the chief administrative officer of the board and who shall have duties and functions as may be prescribed by the board and who shall serve at the pleasure of the county manager of Macon-Bibb County.”
The board of elections has been without a permanent elections supervisor since the resignation of Jeanetta Watson in January of 2022. The board and the county have been at a legal stalemate for months, and Miller has said that he will not move on the board’s recommendation to appoint interim supervisor Tom Gillon to succeed Watson.
Court hearing pending
Early this month, Judge Connie Williford scheduled a hearing May 22 to hear oral arguments from the board’s request for an injunction to block the committee and the county’s motion to dismiss the case.
As recently as Feb. 16, Groover again requested that the case be dismissed because the board of elections’ complaint “fails to state a claim upon relief can be granted.”
That motion explains: “The facts surrounding this matter are not complicated, but (elections board members) obfuscate what has and has not happened in an attempt to avoid dismissal of this meritless case.”
Last May, when the mayor and commission failed to vote on the board of elections first nominee for elections supervisor, the mayor planned to form and chair a bipartisan committee to select a new supervisor candidate. Miller intended to tap two members of the county commission and two members from the board of elections for that committee.
Macon-Bibb County holds nonpartisan elections for mayor and commission, but the board of elections is expressly designed to have two Democrats and two Republicans and one Independent, who is Kaplan.
Although the board initially agreed to participate on the committee, they did so reluctantly because they thought they would be shut out of the process if they did not.
Last summer, Republican board of elections representative Herb Spangler, who is retiring from the board this spring, openly opposed the mayor’s planned committee as usurping the board’s authority.
The board hired an attorney out of Atlanta and filed the lawsuit asking the judge to block the formation of the mayor’s selection panel.
The county’s latest motion points out that only after filing the lawsuit did the board of elections nominate another candidate.
“While the amended complaint is clear this proposed committee never came to fruition, (board’s) response brief attempts to muddy the water and goes so far as to state that the only thing that will resolve their claims is for this court to disband the non-existent committee and appoint their recommended candidate,” the county’s motion stated.
– Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at email@example.com or 478-301-2976.