Elections board nominates new supervisor while attorney asks judge to block mayor’s selection committee

Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections also approves Sunday voting in advance of the November election, warns the results could be thrown out if Mayor Lester Miller and county commission appoint new leader without input


Liz Fabian

Macon-Bibb County elections officer Tom Gillon, center, demonstrates how to operate voting machines at the board of elections office in this file photo. Gillon is the interim elections supervisor following Jeanetta Watson’s retirement.

Amid an ongoing legal dispute, the Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections nominated interim elections supervisor Thomas Gillon to take the job permanently as they ask a judge to block the mayor’s plans to form a selection committee.

After a brief executive session during its meeting Thursday, the board returned to open session with Herb Spangler nominating Gillon, who received unanimous support from other board members to succeed Jeanetta Watson who resigned in January.

This is the board’s second nomination.

On April 25, the board nominated former deputy registrar Canetra Ford, but the nomination never made it to a county commission agenda for a vote after partisan posts surfaced on her social media account.

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller took issue with the selection process which allowed the job candidate’s name and rejection to be public, and decided to put together a bipartisan selection committee with members of the board of elections and county commission.

Although the elections board reluctantly agreed to participate in that selection committee, members later bristled after comments the mayor made to The Macon Newsroom about the process: “I could have just nominated a person myself. I could have chosen no commissioners and just four people off the street if we wanted to, but I just thought to cool down any allegations of politics being involved to have equal representation from both parties and both groups from the committee over there and our commission here.”

Miller said the committee process would better ensure a nominee would be supported by a majority of the county commission and prevent another public rejection.

In late June, the board hired Atlanta attorney A. Lee Parks to take the mayor and county commissioners to court. Parks petitioned a judge last month to intervene and block the mayor’s committee, which has never met although Miller announced commissioners Elaine Lucas, a Democrat, and Bill Howell, a Republican would represent the county in the process that Miller would oversee.

Last week, Parks filed another motion seeking an injunction to block the ad hoc committee, to prevent mayor and commission from selecting a candidate and to compel them to turn over all applications for the elections supervisor position.

After Ford’s rejection, the mayor reposted the job in June, but the board has not seen any of those applications. They had knowledge of Gillon’s application as he applied when the job was initially posted.

Gillon is a near 10-year veteran of the office who served as the elections officer and performed various tasks under Watson.

He graduated from Mercer University in 1992 and also worked as a seasonal technician and early voting worker before joining the office full-time in 2013.

When appointed as interim supervisor, then board of elections chairman Darius Maynard cited Gillon’s experience.

“Tom has been here for a long time and has worked in almost every facet of the Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections. We are very confident in his ability…,” Maynard said.

Under the original nomination procedure, the board’s regular attorney William Noland submitted Gillon’s nomination letter to the county attorney’s office Friday. Noland told The Macon Newsroom he hoped the nomination would be accepted and end the legal wrangling.

Miller said late Friday that he has yet to see the nomination letter.

“Once I receive any official documentation and recommendation from the board of elections, it will be handled through our normal process. The earliest it could be on the agenda is October,” Miller said. “But I am not anticipating any action as long as the legal proceedings are pending.”

Parks has requested an oral hearing before Judge Connie Williford in the request for a preliminary injunction, citing a potentially imminent appointment by the county.

This is the first elections supervisor selection since the consolidation of city and county governments in 2014. Watson became the county’s first African American elections supervisor in 2013.

Macon-Bibb’s consolidated code of ordinances states: “The governing authority of Macon-Bibb County, upon the recommendation of the board of elections, shall appoint a person whose title shall be ‘elections supervisor,’ who shall be the chief administrative officer of the board… .”

Parks contends that any person appointed by the county without the recommendation of the board would be unlawfully appointed and could jeopardize the validity of elections and invite legal challenges.

“This is a fundamental question of separation of powers and reining in a municipal government that is disregarding its own charter. What’s more, defendants are intentionally flouting the law,” stated Parks’ court filing. “Never has it been more important that Georgia’s voters know they can trust the process by which their federal, state, and local politicians and judges are elected.”

Sunday voting approved for Oct. 23

The Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections at 2525 Pio Nono Ave. will be open for Sunday voting on Oct. 23 from 1-5 p.m. (Liz Fabian)

Georgia’s updated election law calls for two mandatory Saturday voting dates, but the Macon-Bibb Board of Elections has agreed to add a day of Sunday voting in the upcoming November election season.

Weekday advance voting begins Oct. 17 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at all three advance voting locations: the board office at 2525 Pio Nono Ave., the Elaine Lucas Senior Citizens Center at 132 Willie Smokie Glover Drive in Carolyn Crayton Park and the Theron Ussery Recreation Center at 815 North Macon Park Drive.

Saturday voting will occur at all early voting precincts on Oct. 22 and 29 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but Sunday voting will only be held at the board of elections office on Oct. 23 from 1 to 5 p.m.

To be eligible to vote in the November election, the deadline for voter registration is Oct. 11. The last day to request an absentee ballot by mail is Oct. 28.

Election Day is Nov. 8 when all regular precincts will be open from 7 a.m to 7 p.m.

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