Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Down in Pierce County, local GOP files suit against elections chair Howard

A temporary restraining order has been filed against Brenda Howard and the newly formed Pierce County Elections Board.

Kay Godwin and the Pierce County Republican Party asked for the order, alleging the board violated Georgia’s Open Meetings Law and had improperly selected Howard as both a member and chairperson of the group.

The order prevents Howard from acting as chairman and also prevents the elections board from recognizing Howard as a member of the group.

The suit contends Howard’s selection was made at a June 22 meeting held with insufficient public notice and, therefore, was not open to the public.
Godwin and the Republican Party are represented by Waycross attorney Mark Hatfield.

Godwin could not be reached for comment, but Hatfield spoke on her behalf.

“My client wants the process to be open and transparent and that has not been the case,” said Hatfield. “We want the board to comply with the Open Meetings law as they are required to do so.”

The elections board is represented by county attorney Franklin D. Rozier Jr.

Rozier did not object to the temporary restraining order and Howard agreed to step aside as chairperson until the issue can be resolved.

Rozier and Howard have both declined comment on the case.

Superior Court Judge Mike DeVane issued the order following a brief hearing late Friday afternoon. The suit was filed in the Clerk of Superior Court’s office Monday morning.

A hearing regarding an injunction against Howard and the board is set for 9 a.m. Tuesday, September 22, at the Pierce County Courthouse.

The injunction will also be a temporary action until the full matter can be heard before a judge in a non-jury trial.

Friday’s legal action is just the latest turn of events following the July 1 creation of the elections board.

The group was created by the General Assembly earlier this year to take over administering elections in the county, a job long held by the judge of probate court …#8221; which, until December 31, 2008, had most recently been Howard.

The Republican and Democratic parties selected two members each. The four selected members were to choose a fifth member and then vote for a chairperson.

The members include Republican appointees Harold Rozier Jr. and Lynn D. Rowell and Democratic appointees Annette H. Morris and Beverly Earle. Upon their appointment in late June, those four then selected the fifth member, Howard, former Probate Judge.

In the event the four could not agree on a fifth member, the choice was to be made by the chief superior court judge.

Three weeks ago, County chairman Jim Dennison interrupted a called meeting of the board also alleging the group was in violation of the Open Meetings Law.

Dennison said he had received about 15 complaints from citizens alleging the board had conducted its meetings, and selected its fifth member, illegally.

At a public meeting August 20, Dennison asked the board to remove Howard and allow the chief superior court judge to select the fifth member. Dennison also accused county attorney Franklin Rozier of improperly steering the board into selecting Howard. Rozier has denied the charge.

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