Fulton board set to meet following failed ouster of elections director

The future of Fulton elections head Richard Barron's employment is at risk. A majority of elections board members voted to fire Barron last week, but the vote was invalid because it happened in private. Now, the board has called a special meeting for Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021 to discuss a "Board of Registration and Election vote on the Registration and Elections Director," according to an agenda. (Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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The future of Fulton elections head Richard Barron's employment is at risk. A majority of elections board members voted to fire Barron last week, but the vote was invalid because it happened in private. Now, the board has called a special meeting for Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021 to discuss a "Board of Registration and Election vote on the Registration and Elections Director," according to an agenda. (Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Fulton County’s elections board is set to meet Tuesday for a vote on elections director Richard Barron, following an invalid closed-door vote to fire him last week.

County communications staff announced the special-called meeting over the weekend. The sole agenda item: A vote on the director.

The Thursday vote to fire Barron seems to have violated Georgia’s open meetings law because it took place in executive session. A county spokeswoman said officials realized the error soon after, and the vote was deemed non-binding.

ExploreFulton board makes ‘invalid’ vote to fire elections director

Calling an executive session lets officials discuss sensitive issues — real estate transactions, pending litigation and personnel matters — away from the public. But Georgia law requires that all votes of officials be taken in public.

The elections department sent a letter Friday with about 50 signatures supporting Barron, saying that he is “responsible for our success” and his firing would be an “unwarranted termination.”

The letter recounted all the unprecedented turbulence, from one of their own dying of COVID-19 to a tropical storm knocking out power at polling places, and repeated that Fulton held “fair and unbiased elections.”

The letter writers make a clear ask of the board: “We ask that your decision be guided not by political party lines, candidate preferences or conspiracy theories but by the merits that fair and unbiased Elections were conducted.”

If the elections board votes Tuesday to fire Barron, there’s a question about what happens next.

County spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt said Monday that the acting county attorney was reviewing whether Fulton County commissioners would need to ratify the elections board’s choice to fire Barron.

Commissioner Bob Ellis, a Republican who represents the northernmost part of Fulton, said he doesn’t think it should involve the commissioners because it is the election board’s decision.

Ellis said he is basing his opinion on what the former county attorney told commissioners in June, when there was talk about firing Barron after the rocky primary. Commissioners meet next on Wednesday.

“If we did something outside of what they’d decided, I think we’d probably be met with a legal challenge that we’d lose,” the commissioner said.

Elections Board Chairwoman Mary Carole Cooney said Friday that the commissioners would have to ratify any decision her board made to fire Barron.

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The Fulton County Board of Elections and Registration met Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021 and improperly voted to fire the elections director. (Photo: FGTV's YouTube)

Credit: FGTV's YouTube

The Fulton County Board of Elections and Registration met Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021 and improperly voted to fire the elections director. (Photo: FGTV's YouTube)

Credit: FGTV's YouTube

Combined ShapeCaption
The Fulton County Board of Elections and Registration met Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021 and improperly voted to fire the elections director. (Photo: FGTV's YouTube)

Credit: FGTV's YouTube

Credit: FGTV's YouTube

Cooney previously said that she and Democratic board member Aaron Johnson were the sole votes for Barron to keep his job. The five-member board is comprised of a chair and two appointees from each political party.

Barron has led Fulton’s elections since 2013.

The effort to oust Barron comes eight months after he ran a rough June primary election that had some people waiting in line for hours — many because they never received mail-in ballots after Fulton’s system was overwhelmed.

But with money and an outpouring of community support, Barron and his staff rallied after June and ran steady elections through January 2021.

The 10 a.m. Tuesday meeting can be viewed at https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_FIM5dbdwRK6sKRzRaGVjkA or https://www.fultoncountyga.gov/watch-fgtv.

Credit: WSBTV Videos

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Early morning protest targets Fulton County DA Fani Willis

Credit: WSBTV Videos