OPINION: It’s election season, time for Fulton County to make more noise

July 14, 2021 Atlanta - Commissioner Lee Morris (left)  and Commission Chairman Robb Pitts confer during a meeting at the Fulton County government building in Atlanta on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Michel “Marty” Turpeau IV, chairman of the embattled Development Authority of Fulton County (DAFC), announced Monday he will end his dual role as interim executive director, effective Aug. 31. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

caption arrowCaption
July 14, 2021 Atlanta - Commissioner Lee Morris (left) and Commission Chairman Robb Pitts confer during a meeting at the Fulton County government building in Atlanta on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Michel “Marty” Turpeau IV, chairman of the embattled Development Authority of Fulton County (DAFC), announced Monday he will end his dual role as interim executive director, effective Aug. 31. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Fulton County government always finds a way to work itself into the news cycles, whether it be election disputes, the district attorney’s investigation of Donald Trump or a jail forever bursting at the seams.

But the Fulton County Commission, the board that oversees the county’s purse strings, often gets left in the shadows. Perhaps that’s because just about every square foot of land in Fulton has been absorbed into newly formed cities, which have become the front-line government response to citizens.

Not to worry, Fulton is always able to Fulton, as we have seen in the past week. Let’s explore:

— It seems that Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman, who is fairly new to the board, is running a political incubator. Two of her aides, including her chief of staff, want to join her on the commission and are running for office. The other commissioners struck back almost immediately — and unanimously — voting to say “They can’t do this,” causing the two to be run off from their well-paying jobs. This ended up in court.

— The political battle I just mentioned shook loose a bit of untoward news of an EEOC complaint against Commissioner Natalie Hall, who was accused of forcing her chief of staff to sleep with her under the threat of being fired. He also accused her of putting tracking devices (plural) on his car after he tried to end the relationship. He ended up getting fired. The county is fighting the accusations.

— And the guy who the county wanted to head up the Elections Department bailed on the job just hours after he was named the sole finalist for the position.

One wonders if it suddenly dawned on him. “Whoa! That Fulton County?!?”

caption arrowCaption
Fulton County Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman, center, talked with supporters as she leaves court. Photo by Bill Torpy

Credit: Bill Torpy

Fulton County Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman, center, talked with supporters as she leaves court. Photo by Bill Torpy

Credit: Bill Torpy

caption arrowCaption
Fulton County Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman, center, talked with supporters as she leaves court. Photo by Bill Torpy

Credit: Bill Torpy

Credit: Bill Torpy

“We’ve had some drama recently, haven’t we?” said Commissioner Lee Morris, a man who certainly knows drama, having served on the Atlanta City Council under disgraced former Mayor Bill Campbell. He called Atlanta city government a “Kleptocracy” when he left office 20 years ago.

And while Atlanta has had more than its share of scandal and corruption in recent years, Fulton hasn’t been bitten by the same taint, at least the variety where insiders are walking away with anything that isn’t nailed down. Sure, Fulton had its share of corruption a couple of decades ago but those caught were both Democrat and Republican. North and south. Black and white. It was something that pols on both sides of the county could agree on, despite the historic us-versus-them political animus.

Now we are in election year and things again are heating up.

In Fulton County court last week, a judge heard arguments from Rick Blalock and Robert H. Kelly, both of whom work for Abdur-Rahman, who represents the southernmost part of the county. Kelly wants to run against Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr., a Democrat. And Blalock, also a Dem, wants to run for an open seat in North Fulton, an area that’s long been the province of the GOP. But as Morris, a Republican, told me, “Fulton’s been turning blue.”

The commission voted 6-0, with Abdur-Rahman out of town on business, saying that employees can’t also be candidates for county office. They said it was a conflict of interest to do both. The action would be retroactive. The two would have to give up sweet jobs. Blalock makes $51.36 per hour and Kelly $133,750 per year.

Abdur-Rahman, who calls herself an “outsider,” said she never heard of commissioners firing another commissioner’s staff. “They took away half my office,” she said, leaving court. Her employees decided to run because “either you’re part of the problem or part of the solution.” Then she added, “There’s an anti-incumbent fever and my colleagues know it.”

Arrington, part of the 6-0 tally, was voting against the interests of a man running against him, not to mention his own interests. Arrington waved off any conflict in his vote, saying, “It’s bigger than just this issue. The rule is the rule.”

caption arrowCaption
July 14, 2021 Atlanta - Commissioner Marvin S. Arrington, Jr. reacts during a meeting at the Fulton County government building in Atlanta on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Michel "Marty" Turpeau IV, chairman of the embattled Development Authority of Fulton County (DAFC), announced Monday he will end his dual role as interim executive director, effective Aug. 31. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

July 14, 2021 Atlanta - Commissioner Marvin S. Arrington, Jr. reacts during a meeting at the Fulton County government building in Atlanta on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Michel "Marty" Turpeau IV, chairman of the embattled Development Authority of Fulton County (DAFC), announced Monday he will end his dual role as interim executive director, effective Aug. 31. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

caption arrowCaption
July 14, 2021 Atlanta - Commissioner Marvin S. Arrington, Jr. reacts during a meeting at the Fulton County government building in Atlanta on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Michel "Marty" Turpeau IV, chairman of the embattled Development Authority of Fulton County (DAFC), announced Monday he will end his dual role as interim executive director, effective Aug. 31. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

He went on to say that Abdur-Rahman worked with legislators, including Republicans, to redraw the commission maps so that her chief of staff could run against him. She denies this, but if so, I guess one could say that an outsider’s gotta do what an outsider’s gotta do.

Commissioner Liz Hausmann, a north Fulton Republican who is leaving after three terms to run for the state Senate, crafted the legislation to stop the county employees for running for office, saying it’s the norm statewide. “You make a choice,” she said. “You either run for office or keep your job.”

Turns out they won’t have to choose. Visiting Judge Adele Grubbs ruled Thursday that Blalock and Kelly could be candidates and paid staffers, too. She wrote that the resolution passed by the commission was retroactive and does not apply to the two. Blalock hopes to one day sit in the seat that Hausman is vacating.

Hausmann said that her 11 years on the commission have seen less of the north-south, us-versus-them feuding. “I think there’s more of a willingness to work together,” she said. She said that adding another representative commissioner seat a few years ago and getting rid of a county-wide at-large seat has made the the board more even-keeled. It is now a 3-3 split in the Dem-GOP, north-south columns. Chairman Robb Pitts, a Dem elected county-wide, is often the deciding vote.

“I think there’s more a willingness to work now,” Hausmann said.

I talked with outgoing (and oft-embattled) Elections Director Rick Barron and told him of Hausmann’s comments. His reaction was, what Fulton County Commission is she thinking about?

“The commission has gotten so partisan,” he said. “I used to get 5-1 votes, a consensus. Now, every single vote, even for a new ballot printer, is contentious. They listen to their most extreme constituents.”

He said the Republicans on the board have been tugged more by the whackos. “They’re afraid they’ll get primaried,” he said, adding, “But I think it’ll infect the Democrats, too.”

About the Author

Editors' Picks