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'Just a mess,' elections board member says as Macon-Bibb reopens search for supervisor

The commission rejected putting consideration of the Board of Elections’ sole candidate on committee agenda

MACON, Ga. — Editor's note: Video in this story is about non-binding questions on the ballot

Macon-Bibb County has yet to select a new elections supervisor five months into the search and in the middle of the General Primary and Nonpartisan Election season.

Tuesday, the Macon-Bibb County Commission rejected Commissioner Virgil Watkins’ proposal to consider the Board of Elections’ recommendation for the post, Canetra Ford, the county’s former deputy registrar.

On April 25, the Board of Elections voted 4 to 1 to nominate Ford, who is currently serving as a victim’s advocate in the office of District Attorney Anita Howard, but previously spent six years in the Macon elections office and three years as an election assistant in Dooly County.

Mayor Lester Miller said he considers this a personnel issue and declined to comment on Ford’s nomination after the matter did not come up for a vote.

“The governing authority which includes the mayor, can accept the recommendation, reject the recommendation or can select any candidate that it deems appropriate,” Miller told The Macon Newsroom in a text.

Board of Elections Chairman Mike Kaplan said the board has yet to hear anything from mayor and commission about Ford as of Wednesday, the same day the county reposted the elections supervisor job on its website with a closing date of June 21.

Kaplan said he’s not worried about the operation of the office in the interim, but thinks the selection process needs work.

“We’ve got a very capable Tom Gillon, who’s our acting supervisor, getting us through this election we’re in now. So, we’re fine, and I don’t think there’s a huge hurry to get anything done,” Kaplan said.

Elections board member Herb Spangler, one of two Republican appointees on the five-member board, voted against Ford’s nomination as he favored Gillon for the permanent position.

“I would still not vote for her,” Spangler said Wednesday. “I want everything to go as smoothly as possible. I really believe that Tommy (Gillon) right now would probably be about the best choice. He’s familiar with the operation.” 

Both Spangler and Kaplan cited the political intensity of recent elections complicating the selection process.

Former elections supervisor Jeanetta Watson resigned over the stress, increased workload and Georgia’s new elections law, according to her resignation letter.

“Everybody is so, so, hyped up right now,” Spangler said. “It’s just a mess. I mean, we couldn’t be going through this at a worse time.”

“Things are a little bit more passionate now than they’ve been in the past,” Kaplan said. “Maybe these executive supervisors have sort have been rubber stamped because there hadn’t been any controversy over anything election-wise at that point when the last time we hired somebody.”

Watkins blamed Ford’s apparent rejection on a 2020 retweet of journalist Roland Martin’s comments following then presidential candidate Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as vice president.

Martin’s message to “white progressives who are pissed off” was to “STFU.”

“Y’all have no clue what today means to a lot of Black women, especially older sisters. The tears of joy are real because the pain has also been real and enduring,” Martin’s tweet said.

An account bearing Ford’s name retweeted the post and added the word “progress” and a heart emoji.

“It’s kinda bothersome that this repost is the reason,” Watkins told The Macon Newsroom in a text. “And it all happened privately, with no discourse between the (Board of Elections) and commission. Just hearsay from mayor.”

Kaplan called the supervisor selection process a “flawed system” that the candidate’s name “has to be out there” before being offered the job.

“I plan on talking to legislators about that… or maybe with Bibb County,” Kaplan told The Macon Newsroom.

He suggested submitting a list of names to the county, or appointing a separate committee of county commissioners and board of elections representatives to conduct future interviews.

“I can tell you that we at the Board of Elections are 100 percent willing and able and wanting to work with the county commissioners to get an executive supervisor that everybody can be happy with,” Kaplan said.

In the meantime, the staff is forging on with the business of conducting the election. Kaplan wants to remind voters that the deadline is Friday to request an absentee ballot for the May 24 election.

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at fabian_lj@mercer.edu or 478-301-2976.

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