CONYERS -- Political bickering halted action at the Rockdale County Board of Elections and Voter Registration on Tuesday with a heated debate over proposed bylaws that include new steps to select nonpartisan members.
The board members voted 3-0 to defer action on the bylaws to their March 1 meeting to allow members of both Democratic and Republican county parties to review the proposed document.
The vote followed a long discussion on the validity of the bylaws in which Republican board member Lynn Brown accused Democratic board member and Chairman Garvin Haynes of stonewalling passage of the bylaws.
Haynes accused Brown and at-large board member Cary Bond of forcing through the bylaws with disregard for the county Democratic Party.
The major point of contention is the provision under the proposed bylaws for selecting the at-large, or nonpartisan, member. If the two partisan members cannot reach a decision after 15 days, the matter goes to the chief judge of the Rockdale Judicial Circuit.
Haynes said the provision denies his party the right to veto people it would object to during the selection process for an at-large member.
"We've always had the ability to veto anybody who was just not acceptable to us. That is off the table if this happens, and that is not acceptable to our party," Haynes said. "It should be not acceptable to their party."
Haynes said the Board of Elections could still function with two members if needed, as it did during the July primary election.
"They're concerned about something that is imaginary at this point, may not happen and (would be) changing the whole apple cart without looking at history," he said.
Brown and Bond contend that indecision from last year's process to replace longtime chairman Don Cargill was proof that the provision was needed.
Cargill retired and moved away in April after serving 19 years as chairman and at-large member. Cargill's seat remained unfilled for five months before Bond was selected.
"Partisan politics, I have to say, got very much involved in this morning's discussion," Bond said after the meeting adjourned. "What we've always wanted to do was to come up with a set of bylaws and procedures that the Board of Elections could function under. The biggest absence under the whole procedure was how did you go about appointing an at-large member in case of a deadlock? And there's certain mechanical things that are trying to be corrected or addressed in this document."
Bond was chosen in August by the drawing of a poker chip from a hat. It was the solution to months of deadlock between Haynes and the Republican representative, first Hilda Westmoreland and later Brown. A red chip was for Bond and a blue chip for Conyers attorney Russ Moore. Elections Supervisor Cynthia Welch was chosen to draw and pulled the red chip for Bond.
During the meeting, Haynes contacted county attorney Qader A. Baig's office by cell phone to have Baig come to the meeting to discuss the legality of the proposed bylaw. An attempt to reach Rockdale County Chief of Staff Greg Pridgeon was also made.
Neither Baig or Pridgeon came to the Board of Elections meeting.
Haynes also declined to accept any motions from Bond or Brown at one point during the meeting. The members attempted to move forward on the other sections of the bylaws but did not get far.
Haynes also argued against another provision that would stipulate that only the non-partisan member would be designated as board chairman.
Brown said that was how it had operated under Cargill and the board worked fine. Haynes said the chairman's election was open to any board member and that was done more out of experience of being on the board. He said it was a factor in him becoming chairman after Cargill left.
"Hilda, with her experience, and me with my experience had no idea what experience that third person might have, and yes it made total sense," Haynes said. "Why would we bring in someone who had less experience than either one of us to be chair and interact with the Elections Board?"
Executive committee members of the Rockdale County Democratic Party did appear after the meeting began, including former party Chairman Stan Williams, Vice Chairman Fred Witt and R.J. Hadley.
Witt took issue with Brown and said he had never seen the proposed bylaws and urged the board to table any discussion until his party weighed in.