Fulton elections director resigns

With six weeks to go before a presidential election, the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections has accepted the resignation of its embattled department director, Sam Westmoreland.

At a special-called meeting Monday where Westmoreland was expected to be terminated, the 5-member board deliberated in closed session for about 45 minutes before voting unanimously to accept his resignation. He sent his resignation letter Saturday while incarcerated at the Alpharetta jail.

Westmoreland just finished a 10-day stint for violating probation on a 2009 DUI charge, and he’s now awaiting transfer to the Laurens County jail, in middle Georgia, for failing to show up for court after a 2008 DUI there.

“After much reflection,” Westmoreland’s letter says, “I believe it is in the department’s best interest to have a leader that enjoys the full support of this board as we move forward toward this important general election.”

Board Chairman Roderick Edmond, speaking at a news conference after the meeting, said the board lost confidence in Westmoreland about three or four weeks ago. Under the terms of the vote, should he rescind his resignation, he will be immediately fired. He will not retain health or retirement benefits, nor will he receive severance pay, Edmond said.

On the night of Dec. 23, 2009, Alpharetta police stopped him on Ga. 120 after he made a U-turn and arrested him after he failed a field sobriety test. A blood sample showed he was under the influence of the sedative benzodiazepine, according to a GBI Crime Lab analysis obtained by the AJC.

According to a petition for revocation filed in Fulton County State Court, Westmoreland failed to complete risk reduction/DUI school, a Mothers Against Drunk Driving course or community service mandated after his 2009 DUI arrest.

Several board members have said they were unaware their director had to serve time in jail until Sept. 19, five days into his incarceration. Edmond said they knew he had received a Fulton County DUI, but thought his sentencing was complete. The board only learned of the Laurens County case last week, the chairman said.

According to the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office, a warrant was issued for Westmoreland’s arrest after he failed to appear in court there on Sept. 10 in connection with a Sept. 15, 2008, DUI charge in that county, also involving drugs.

The 2008 charge came following a wreck involving a Lincoln Aviator driven by Westmoreland and a tractor-trailer.

According to a Georgia State Patrol accident report obtained Monday by the AJC, Westmoreland made a U-turn, then attempted to go through the intersection of Ga. 31 and County Road 160 on a red light.

The truck, which had the green light, hit the Lincoln SUV, and both vehicles overturned.

No injuries were reported in the wreck, but according to the GSP report, Westmoreland was allegedly under the influence of unspecified drugs. Contributing factors listed in the report were DUI, disregarding a stop sign or signal and making an improper turn.

Westmoreland did not disclose that pending case, nor the one from Alpharetta, in his application papers for the director’s job, according to documents obtained through an open records request.

A member of the Board of Registration and Elections since 2004 and a two-time board chair, Westmoreland was appointed interim elections director in July 2011, and permanently took over the position in March.

Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts told the board today that he’s concerned the department won’t be able to pull off the Nov. 6 election without errors. In the July primary, hundreds of voters were assigned to the wrong state House and Senate races.

Afterward, Pitts said the leadership change is a good start. Registration Chief Sharon Mitchell will serve as interim director, the board decided.

“We feel that we stand ready to do a good election,” Mitchell said in the news conference.

Early voting begins Oct. 15.