Ethics complaint filed against former Fulton Elections chair

Fulton County Elections board member Vernetta Nuriddin has filed an ethics complaint against former board chairwoman Mary Carole Cooney. (Photo: FGTV's YouTube)

Credit: FGTV's YouTube

Credit: FGTV's YouTube

Fulton County Elections board member Vernetta Nuriddin has filed an ethics complaint against former board chairwoman Mary Carole Cooney. (Photo: FGTV's YouTube)

A Fulton County Board of Registration & Elections member has filed an ethics complaint against the group’s former chairwoman after the leader spoke with an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter about the behind-closed-doors firing of elections chief Richard Barron.

The February executive session firing of Barron was deemed invalid because it did not occur in public. The AJC reported at the time that the vote likely violated Georgia’s Open Meetings law.

The ethics complaint was filed in February by board member Vernetta Nuriddin — the only Democrat on the board to vote in favor of Barron’s ouster. The board gathered in a special called meeting the next week and voted in public to fire Barron, but that decision was ultimately reversed by the Fulton County commission.

Which body has the authority to fire the elections director remains an open question in Fulton, where the interim county attorney has been instructed to research the topic and report back to commissioners. Barron remains in his role.

Nuriddin’s complaint alleges chairwoman Mary Carole Cooney sought to “direct the outcome” of a meeting earlier in the month that decided Barron’s fate by speaking with AJC reporter Ben Brasch about the vote in executive session. It says Cooney violated confidentiality and conflict of interest guidelines, and that she “willfully attempted to influence the media and the public.”

“Ms. Cooney has, since Feb. 11th, met with the media, county [attorneys] and the Board of Commissioners Chair to build ‘a case’ against the directive of her board thereby advancing her own interests and that of Mr. Barron over the will of the Board of Elections and Registration,” Nuriddin wrote in the complaint.

Cooney, who resigned from the board in March due to a longstanding illness, declined to comment on the complaint Tuesday, saying she was unaware of it.

The county’s ethics board met Tuesday to discuss Nuriddin’s complaint but did not render a ruling. Board members agreed they would write a letter to Nuriddin, asking her to explain what Cooney would have improperly gain by talking to the media.

Ethics board chairman Benjamin Fox said using “the echo of the news media” doesn’t violate the ethics code, adding that Fulton County is committed to transparent governing.

Barron had come under fire for his handling of a June election in which some voters waited for hours in line to cast their ballots. The problem was blamed on Fulton’s failure to send out mail-in ballots to residents because its system had become overwhelmed.

Barron generally received praise for his team’s handling of the November general election and the runoff elections for two U.S. Senate seats in January.

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