Effingham County Takes Secret Vote, Atlanta Case Invoked
(APN) ATLANTA — The City of Atlanta’s secret vote of February 2010 is having repurcussions across the State of State, just as the News Editor of Atlanta Progressive News, the present writer, warned would happen in oral arguments before the Supreme Court of Georgia in October 2011.
“First of all, the ruling–if agencies across the state were to understand its implications–has allowed agencies to take all their votes as non-roll call votes have them be unrecorded. So we could end up with no recorded votes across the State of Georgia,” APN’s News Editor told the Court at that time.
Indeed, on Tuesday, January 03, 2012, the Board of Commissioners of Effingham County, Georgia, took a secret vote on who should serve as Vice Chairman of the Board, APN has learned.
According to an email from Gg Rigsby of the Savannah Morning News newspaper, “They marked their vote on pieces of paper, which the county clerk collected. She then announced the winner.”
“At the first possible break, I questioned the use of a secret ballot and Elizabeth Pavlis, who has been acting as county attorney at recent meetings, said she thinks the way they’re doing it is legal,” Rigsby wrote in another email obtained by APN.
“Because I asked, they let me and another newspaper reporter see the paper ballots, so we know three people voted for Reggie Loper, two for Bob Brantley and one for Steve Mason,” Rigsby wrote. “We still do not know how each commissioner voted,” Rigsby wrote.
Sound familiar? In February 2010, the City Council of Atlanta took a secret vote by show of hands while eating lunch during a Council Retreat at the Georgia Aquarium. The Council voted eight to seven, in what they called a straw poll but later admitted was a vote, but they did not release the names those voting for or against the proposal.
APN’s News Editor filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court in May 2010 regarding the secret vote, but the case was dismissed.
Currently, the Supreme Court of Georgia is still reviewing the decision by the trial court and the affirmation by the Court of Appeals of Georgia; and is considering whether a section of the Georgia Open Meetings Act, OCGA 50-14-1(e)(2), in fact requires the names of those voting against the proposal or abstaining to be listed in the minutes.
[The Court of Appeals held that citizens must assume the vote is unanimous even when it is not, if no names are listed in the minutes.]
David Hudson, an attorney for the Georgia Press Association and the Savannah Morning News, told the newspaper, while he previously believed such a secret vote was illegal, that “The Ga Court of Appeals has held that identification of the votes and voters is required only when there is a request for a roll call vote.”
In other words, the consequence of the Court of Appeals ruling has been–just as APN predicted–the justification of secret votes across the State of Georgia.
Effingham County will not approve the minutes of the meeting until the Board of Commissioners meets again next month.