‘No censoring Desmond Brown’ as he vacates Macon Water Authority seat

Brown qualifying for the chairman’s seat means he has vacated his office under the Georgia Constitution, legal minds concluded


Liz Fabian

Macon Water Authority District 2 seat is now empty after attorneys concluded Desmond Brown legally vacated the office when he qualified to run for the at-large chairman’s seat.

The Macon Water Authority now has a vacancy in District 2.

After the authority spent weeks investigating Desmond Brown and pondering whether to ask the governor to remove him from office, Brown effectively vacated his seat himself when he qualified Monday to run for authority chairman.

Local attorneys have been evaluating the constitutional provision since Monday’s qualifying and determined it does apply to the authority, which called a closed-door meeting Thursday.

Georgia’s Constitution states: “The office of any state, county, or municipal elected official shall be declared vacant upon such elected official qualifying, in a general primary or general election…” for another office.

At the conclusion of Thursday’s executive session with three attorneys present, Chairman Sam Hart announced the District 2 seat is open and the probate judge will be appointing an interim authority member until a special election later this year.

There is not enough time to call a special election to coincide with the upcoming nonpartisan election on May 24. The special election would be held Nov. 8, said Tom Gillon, interim Macon-Bibb County Elections Supervisor.

Desmond Brown

Brown left the authority meeting Thursday vowing to focus on his campaign and accusing the authority of a “witch hunt” to get rid of him.

“If the people wanted proof of getting me off the board because I’m a whistleblower, then they have it,” Brown said. “Based on what I’ve just heard they have nullified the votes of the people of District 2 who have elected me. I have been removed from office not because I committed a crime but because I love this community so much, I wanted to clean this place up. I’m a statesman not a politician. The stormwater that is damaging people’s homes needs to be addressed.”

Brown said he was not aware when qualifying that he would lose his seat. He cited former secretary of state Brian Kemp remaining in office while running for governor as his rationale.

In the case of the Macon Water Authority, the seats for chairman and District 2 are up for election in different years. Georgia’s governor and secretary of state are elected at the same time and serve the same length of term, so it is different.

Georgia’s Constitution explains that an officer-holder effectively steps down if the “term of office for which such official is qualifying for begins more than 30 days prior to the expiration of such official’s present term in office.”

The term of the District 2 seat doesn’t expire until 2024, while the new chairman will take over in January.

There is nothing in the authority’s bylaws that pertain to this situation and The Macon Newsroom could not get a definitive ruling from election officials.

Wednesday, neither the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, nor the local attorney for the Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections would go on the record about whether Brown vacated his seat.

Secretary of State spokesman Walter Jones said he consulted with the office’s attorneys, and they referred the matter back to the authority’s legal counsel.

Executive sessions

Former district attorney David Cooke went into Thursday’s executive session, but did not give a formal report in open session, as he has done in the past. The authority hired Cooke in December to look into Brown’s conduct concerning billing the authority more than $40,000 in flood damage on behalf of a client of his disaster mitigation company, Blue Armour of America.

In late January, Cooke concluded Brown had a “blatant conflict of interest” and committed potential insurance fraud by allegedly inflating the invoices. Cooke advised the board to censure Brown, which they did.

Since that initial report, Cooke has uncovered more claims that Brown “targets the elderly” through his business and advised the authority they likely had grounds to ask the governor to remove him for ethics violations. One woman Brown was suing suffered a fatal stroke after showing up for court, Cooke reported.

Brown also was jailed for four days Feb. 21 for contempt of court for failing to comply with a judge’s order in a 2019 civil case. Brown owes a former investment client about $150,000 from a $40,000 investment in 2011, plus 25 percent interest each year, the judge ruled.

The judge released him Feb. 25 to make it easier for him to collect the financial statements the court needs to arrange payment of his debt. He has until March 18 to produce the documents or go back to jail, Judge Connie Williford said.

Cooke also included this civil case in his supplemental report because it reflects on his character while in office. Because Brown is now off the authority, the referral to the governor for removal is a moot point, but they could refer Cooke’s findings to the insurance commissioner, district attorney or other law enforcement entity.

Now that Cooke’s work is done, the authority hired attorney Jeff Thompson to counsel them on how to proceed with the former DA’s investigative report and any other matters.

In January, Brown accused the authority of gerrymandering in drawing the recent redistricting maps to allow for District 1’s Anissa Jones pending move to Cherry Street.

While fumbling through his plastic grocery bag of documents in court Feb. 21, Brown told the judge, “I’m a victim because I’m a whistleblower.”

Although the Constitution states Brown vacated the office at the time of qualifying, his name plate remained on the dais and Brown was able to vote with the board to go into closed session. He initially went behind closed doors before being told to leave.

‘No censoring Desmond Brown’

Outside the meeting, Brown said he is being targeted “because I spoke out about the (redistricting) map.”

“At the end of the day, my record sitting on this board for one year speaks for itself. When they call Desmond Brown, he shows up. He gets results for them. When they call Desmond Brown, he returns the phone call. And that is what I want to be remembered by, what I did in office,” Brown said.

He said he is not running against anyone but running for chairman, which made him a target to “damage his image.” Hart has stated he is not seeing reelection, and qualifying ends March 10 at noon.

“It’s not about Desmond Brown’s past credit history that was there, even though the people still voted for me in a landslide victory… for people to go back and dig up dirt,” Brown said. But they should be careful. If the news media started digging up dirt on them, you will find that what they’re exposing about Desmond Brown doesn’t come nowhere near the stuff they’ve done.”

He said the board should concentrate on taking care of the ratepayers and fixing stormwater issues and not “digging up dirt because you were afraid Desmond Brown was going to run for chairman.”

Brown said he plans to call a news conference next week.

“Now there’s no censoring Desmond Brown. Desmond Brown is raw and uncut.”

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.