Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pierce County Elections board will look for new chairman: Brenda Howard resigns, denies wrongdoing days before Pierce GOP injunction against her heads to court

Brenda Howard has resigned as chairperson of the Pierce County Elections Board on the eve of a court hearing challenging her appointment.

In a letter dated Sept. 17, but filed with the Clerk of Court’s office Monday, Howard said she was stepping down to spare the county from the “embarassment of a potential long legal battle that would cast a bad reflection.”

A temporary restraining order was filed against Howard and the Elections Board in late August by Kay Godwin and the Pierce County Republican Party. The Republican Party claimed the Elections Board was not in compliance with Georgia’s Open Records Act when Howard was selected as the fifth member.

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 & State Representative Mark Hatfield.

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

A hearing regarding a permanent injunction in the matter had been set for Tuesday morning at the Pierce County Courthouse. Following Howard’s resignation, the hearing was promptly cancelled.

Howard could not be reached for comment.

In her letter, she denied any wrong-doing or poor judgement.

“I believe it best that the county be spared the expense of defending itself against a lawsuit...,” she wrote.

Howard said she was taking the action to remove any delays to the Board of Elections, to relieve its members and others of “intimidation and harassment” and to remove stress from “her life and from her family.”

Howard said she was submitting the resignation with regret.

“Precious time is wasted in strife. It’s my heart’s desire that we live and work in harmony and peace,” she concluded.

Hatfield said the main issue had been resolved and he had asked for the cancellation of Tuesday’s hearing.

“In light of the resignation, the issue regarding Mrs. Howard’s appointment has been resolved,” he said.

Still, the case has not been totally withdrawn.

Hatfield did not say if he planned to withdraw the case.

“There are still a few issues to be worked out,” he said. “The elections board, nor Mrs. Howard, have responded to our original filing and we have to resolve who will pay for attorney’s fees.”

County attorney Franklin Rozier Jr. said he is hopeful the issue is resolved.

“We have until Sept. 30 to file a response,” he said. “Once we do that, I hope the whole thing will be over. I hope we can move on.”

Rozier said the elections board would meet to select a new fifth member and then would vote for a chairperson in coming weeks.

The current members include Republican appointees Harold Rozier Jr. and Lynn D. Rowell and Democratic appointees Annette H. Morris and Beverly Earle.

If the four cannot agree, Chief Superior Court Judge Dwayne Gillis will make the selection.

Howard’s resignation 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 ��” 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. They selected Howard.

Last month, County chairman Jim Dennison interrupted a called meeting of the board alleging the group was in violation of the Open Meetings Law and that Howard was illegally selected as a member and elected chairperson.

Dennison said he had received about 15 complaints from citizens making the allegations.

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.

After the injunction against Howard, the board selected Harold Rozier Jr. as acting chairman. The board also hired Kim Teabo as elections supervisor and Sandra Boatright as elections clerk.

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