Fulton board wants elections director to delay resignation 3 months

Fulton County Election Director Richard Barron overlooks at the Fulton County Election Preparation Center in Atlanta, Ga., on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. (Photo/Jenn Finch)

Credit: Jenn Finch

Credit: Jenn Finch

Fulton County Election Director Richard Barron overlooks at the Fulton County Election Preparation Center in Atlanta, Ga., on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. (Photo/Jenn Finch)

As Fulton and DeKalb counties search for new elections directors, Fulton may have bought itself some time ahead of the pivotal 2022 midterm elections when it offered to extend director Richard Barron’s contract through March.

The Fulton Board of Registration & Elections took the action Friday, while Dekalb’s elections board interviewed director candidates behind closed doors.

Fulton and DeKalb counties are collectively home to one-sixth of all Georgians and are Democratic strongholds. Fulton, in particular, has been the target of state officials and is under threat of a state takeover of elections.

The livestream from Fulton’s election board meeting didn’t show if Barron was present during the vote. Barron did not immediately respond to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution when asked if he would accept the extension, which would last until April Fool’s Day.

Barron, who has been in the role since 2013, announced in early November that he would resign at the end of the year. At the time, Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said Barron’s presence was “a distraction” and the departure was not because of Republican attempts to oust and fire the elections director.

Teresa K. Crawford, a Democratic member of the Fulton elections board, made the motion to keep Barron. She said it was “to cover us because of the number of people that we’re missing ... and also to work within the county … to get up and running.”

The sole Republican elections board member present at the meeting abstained from the vote, and all Democrats voted in favor of retaining Barron. The board also approved a contract with search firm Baker Tilly to find a new permanent director.

Bob Ellis, a Republican county commissioner, said he was flabbergasted by the decision to keep Barron.

“Having him continue on does nothing to benefit the situation. It’s time for us to have a clean break and for him to have a clean break and for Mr. Barron to move on,” Ellis said.

A fellow GOP commissioner Liz Hausmann called the move “a very big surprise.”

Hausmann has been critical of Barron’s elections spending and voted in March to uphold the election board’s firing of Barron — a measure that was ultimately defeated by a 4-3 vote of the commission. Hausmann said extending Barron’s contract hurts the ability of the county and Barron to move forward.

Hausmann said there were a couple internal candidates who would have been “just fine” as interim director.

Calls to get rid of Barron began following a disastrous June 2020 primary that had some voters waiting in line for hours, many because they never received mail-in ballots after Fulton’s system was overwhelmed.

A state-appointed performance review panel is now investigating Fulton elections under Senate Bill 202, which gives them the ability to let the state temporarily take over county elections.

DeKalb searching, too

In neighboring DeKalb County, where former director Erica Hamilton resigned earlier this fall, the local elections board spent the morning interviewing candidates of their own in executive session — as allowed by state law.

Before the meeting, elections board chair Dele Lowman Smith declined to reveal exactly how many candidates were being interviewed, but said around 60 people applied since the job was posted in October.

There was “a small number who rose to the level” the board is looking for, Lowman Smith told the AJC.

Lowman Smith said she and her colleagues knew going in that the current political atmosphere would make their search more difficult. They’re also seeking someone with executive-type experience who is equipped to manage an intricate operation that functions largely independently from the rest of the county government.

Lowman Smith said she was confident the board would come out of the interviews able to “identify at least two strong candidates from this pool to move forward as finalists.”

The board hopes to make a hire by the end of January.

Scathing survey details issues in Fulton elections