Cobb commissioners restore order amid conflict and protest over electoral map

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Cobb commissioners averted another chaotic meeting Tuesday night when the two Republicans on the board agreed to fully participate, despite their ongoing issue with the county-passed electoral map which they say is unconstitutional.

Commissioners JoAnn Birrell and Keli Gambrill read statements before voting on any county business, conveying their disapproval of the board operating under the map the Democratic majority passed last year in an unprecedented and widely disputed move to preserve Commissioner Jerica Richardson’s seat after the state Legislature drew her out of her district halfway through her four-year term.

“I do plan to vote tonight; however, I do not support the home rule challenge of the majority of this board. It is unconstitutional and illegal,” Birrell said. “I have a duty to represent my constituents.”

Tuesday was the second meeting since the county began operating under the commission-passed map that went into effect Jan. 1. The first meeting of the year brought the conflict to a head when Birrell and Gambrill both protested the makeup of the board, and were asked to leave the dais after refusing to vote, which they were told was a rule violation.

Some of the conflict from the Jan. 10 meeting is missing from the county video stream, which was turned off when Chairwoman Lisa Cupid took the meeting into recess. The county clerk recorded the incident in the meeting minutes, with which Gambrill and Birrell both took issue.

Gambrill said she believes the board went into an unlawful executive session during that meeting and that she did not vote to go into executive session. But county staff played an audio recording of the entire conflict for reporters after the meeting, confirming that the commissioners did properly vote 5-0 to enter executive session.

Despite hearing the audio herself, Gambrill continued to push against the clerk’s accounting of what happened, called the integrity of the audio into question, and requested “a forensic audit done to ensure the integrity of our systems.”

Cupid responded by admonishing Gambrill for her “display of pomp.”

“Our clerk did play the recording of the meeting for our commissioners who have questioned the minutes. Whether or not they choose to believe the audio recording is on them,” Cupid said.

“The truth of the matter is that commissioners voted to go into (executive session),” Cupid said. “And if they believe they did not ... their actions ratified it when they walked upstairs, sat down and participated.”

County residents flooded the meeting — some to show support for Richardson, and others for the board’s two Republicans.

“On November 3, 2020, Jerica Richardson wins a four-year — I repeat, a four-year term — to represent District 2,” said Matt Stegall. “53,776 voters exercised their right to vote for their representative to represent them for that four-year term.”

“I feel for the commissioner that may have to vacate her seat, but the law is the law,” said Leroy Emkin. “The place to go is the state Legislature.”

Some residents referenced unofficial opinion letters issued by the Office of Legislative Counsel, the Secretary of State’s office and the state attorney general, all of which argue the county does not have the authority to amend its own map. The county has argued that the home rule statute gives them the authority to remake maps passed by the state legislature.

County Attorney Bill Rowling has stood behind the county’s position and previously said in a statement that the statute has never been used in the case of redistricting, and the issue will have to be decided in court.

While there is currently no litigation pending after resident Larry Savage withdrew his lawsuit earlier this month, he said he plans to refile in early February.