State representatives are keeping mum about a mystery bill affecting the Rockdale elections board that was advertised Sunday but not yet available to the public, and that’s creating quite a stir. The bill’s sponsoring representative will be at the next elections board meeting on April 5, 10 a.m., 901 Main Street.
The bill, which caught the three local elections board members and the elections supervisor by surprise, was advertised with District 92 Rep. Pamela Stephenson’s name and reportedly amends the 1995 act that created the Rockdale County Board of Elections.
At a special called meeting on Thursday, board member Cary Bond said he had approached Stephenson and District 93 Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler in early February at a town hall meeting in DeKalb County about the elections board bylaws.
Bond said he had asked if the crossover rule applied to local legislation as well and discussed whether the board of elections could issue resolutions to request legislation. He added that the board did not yet ask for corrective legislation.
Rockdale Democratic party Second Vice Chair Fred Witt said members of the Rockdale Democratic party executive board spoke with Stephenson in a conference call about a week prior to the bill’s advertisement about several issues involving the elections board bylaws, including the gridlock provisions and term length for the third member. “We’re the ones that contacted Pamela,” he said. "We're the ones that asked for the legislation."
Democratic party Chair Tisa Washington said, in an interview after the meeting, that the party leadership did not initiate a request for a bill.
“Just like with any other situation, we asked for guidance from our representatives,” Washington said. She added, "We just want to make sure the process is fair… With what’s going on in the elections board right now, it’s not being done in a fair and equitable way."
Witt said he had commented at the March elections board meeting that the Democratic party felt shut out of the elections board bylaws process. "The Democratic party felt like our next recourse was with the delegation," Witt said on Thursday.
Republican board member Lynn Brown said Sen. Rick Jeffares had expressed that Stephens had suggested the board stop their work on the bylaws until the legislators decided what to do.
Brown requested that that the board put in writing several questions to Stephens, including who initiated the legislative request and a copy of the proposed legislation.
“I feel like this was a last minute end run,” said Brown. "I do not believe the citizens of Rockdale County were served by this pending legislation trying to be slid through."
Local bills require the approval of the majority of the local delegation and are usually voted on as a package by the rest of the House or Senate, according to former state Senator John Douglas. The floor vote is mostly a formality and Douglas said he couldn’t remember a local calendar ever being disapproved.
Democratic member Garvin Haynes brought up again the idea of forming a bipartisan group to work on the changes in the bylaws to be introduced in the 2012 legislative session and brought up other ideas suggested at a recent South Rockdale Civic Association meeting, such as having more elections board members.
Washington echoed support for the idea of a bipartisan group to work on the bylaws. “At the end of the day, those three members have to protect the rights of everybody in the county and they have to take that responsibility seriously.”
(March 31, 11:57 a.m.) IN BRIEF: The Rockdale Democratic party reportedly approached state Rep. Pamela Stephenson about the Rockdale elections board a week prior to a published announcement of a bill to be introduced that would affect the elections board.
At a called meeting of the Rockdale elections board on Thursday morning, Rockdale Democratic party Second Vice Chair Fred Witt said the executive board of the Rockdale Democratic party spoke with Stephenson in a conference call about several issues involving the elections board bylaws.
Witt said that at the March meeting, he had commented that the Democratic party felt shut out of the elections board bylaws process.
"The Democratic party felt like our next recourse was with the delegation," Witt said on Thursday.
One issue was with the appointment of the third board member in case of a gridlock, as occured last year. Witt said the original bylaws allowed the governing body, which would be the county's Board of Commissioners, to appoint the third member. The elections board had discussed moving the decision to the senior Superior Court judge, but said the county's counsel had advised that would be in conflict with state laws.
Another issue was that the third board member would theoretically be able to stay on the board indefinitely.
The draft text of the bill is not yet available at the Clerk's office in the state House of Representatives. In a previous conversation with the News, Stephenson had declined to specify what amendments would be in the bill. Elections Supervisor Cynthia Welch said she had not seen the draft text but would make it available to the public as soon as she did.
Democratically appointed member Garvin Haynes said Stephenson would attend the next elections board meeting with a copy of the proposed legislation on Tuesday, April 5, 10 a.m. at their new location of 901 Main Street.
Check back later to www.rockdalenews.com for more.