Judge: Fulton County staffers can keep jobs and run for commission seats

Attorney David Betts, Rick Blalock and Robert Kelly at a press conference on Friday.

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Attorney David Betts, Rick Blalock and Robert Kelly at a press conference on Friday.

Senior Judge Adele Grubbs on Thursday wrote a scathing rebuke of a Fulton County resolution that sought to prevent two members of Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman’s staff from running for county commission seats in this year’s election.

Grubbs ruling allows Rick Blalock and Robert H. Kelly to keep their positions as special assistant and chief of staff, respectively, for Abdur-Rahman. And it clears the way for both men to hold those jobs while mounting campaigns for commission seats currently held by Marvin Arrington Jr. and Liz Hausmann.

Grubbs wrote that the resolution is “illegal and contrary to equity and good conscience.”

“This is a clear and urgent case,” the ruling says. “The resolution is not enforceable.”

Kelly qualified to run against Arrington on March 10. Blalock qualified to run for Hausmann’s seat March 11. Fulton commissioners passed the resolution March 16, while Abdur-Rahman was out of town on business.

Grubbs said the resolution is not enforceable for multiple reasons: it was not in compliance with county policies; it can not be applied retroactively; and the county has previously not recognized commissioners’ staff as county employees.

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Rick Blalock, attorney David Betts and Robert Kelly after a Friday press conference

Credit: provided

Rick Blalock, attorney David Betts and Robert Kelly after a Friday press conference

Credit: provided

Combined ShapeCaption
Rick Blalock, attorney David Betts and Robert Kelly after a Friday press conference

Credit: provided

Credit: provided

Attorney David Betts represented Kelly and Blalock. He said Friday that Arrington’s vote in favor of the resolution was a conflict of interest because it was an attempt to keep out of the race a candidate running against the commissioner.

“It was an act of bullying,” Betts said.

A county spokeswoman said the resolution was meant to “ensure fairness and integrity in the election process.”

“This case is not about two individuals, but rather it is about protecting the County’s important public interest in maintaining integrity and confidence in its highest levels of government,” the spokeswoman said in a statement.

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Four candidates, including Blalock, have qualified to run for Hausmann’s seat. The long-time Republican commissioner will not seek reelection and will instead run for the Georgia Senate District 14 seat.

Commissioners argued that the resolution was needed to prevent candidates who work at the county from having an “unfair advantage, conflict of interest, impropriety, or appearance of the same.”

The two men were scheduled to be fired last week. But just minutes before, a judge ordered the county to place them on paid administrative leave until the matter was resolved.

Grubbs heard oral arguments in the case Wednesday. During that hearing, the county’s outside legal counsel Tim Boughey argued it’s human nature for colleagues to treat the two staffers running for office more favorably.

“If an injunction is issued, the public interest will be gutted all for the sake of two gentleman remaining employees of Fulton County,” he said.

Betts argued commissioners made the rule to stop the men from running against them: “Maybe they can’t afford to run if they lose their jobs.”

Blalock, who manages Abdur-Rahman’s communications part time at $51.36 per hour, is running for District 1 in northern Fulton. Kelly, who is Abdur-Rahman’s chief of staff at $133,750 per year, is running for southern Fulton’s District 5.

“This is not a victory for me or Robert, it is a victory for all people in north and south Fulton County, and their right to choose their next county commissioner,” Blalock said.