County budget pushes Probate-Elections debate to next year

Election, News

Elections

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Among budget discussions, the County’s Board of Commissioners revisited a major topic of discussion in recent months over elections in the county and what office or board should oversee them.

While approving an increase for Tracey Teague as she was appointed Associate Judge, the county has not settled on a decision on how to move forward with elections within the Probate Court Office, Registrar’s Office, and the possibility of an Election’s Board.

While the BOC stated it understands the importance of this subject to the Probate Court, Chairman Charlie Paris questioned saying, “I think the decision we have to make is how important is it to the county as a whole.”

Paris stated that he was speaking only personally when he noted that he has not found an Election Board configuration that he liked for Gilmer.

Additionally, adding an additional Election Board would increase the budget to fund that board. While the Probate Judge, Scott Chastain, receives a stipend for being Elections Superintendent of $4,500, Paris said a full election board would increase above that.

Scott Chastain

Probate Judge Scott Chastain

The board said collectively that they understood the impact and added stress of having the elections in his office as well as some concerns of the running and operating the elections that he also is running for his position in.

Post Commissioner Hubert Parker pointed out some community response as citizens have spoken with him saying that they debated the point saying he knew the elections were a part of the job when he first ran for office.

An alternative to an election board, the commissioners discussed increasing the stipend for Chastain to continue overseeing the elections. An idea Chastain himself brought up in a county meeting previously.

While the entire Probate Office operates and is used for elections through their office, the Commissioners discussed that much of the detailed work and oversight is undertaken by Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins. Elections, in essence, is already overflowing out of the Probate Office into Registrars. However, this is nothing new. Watkins has been working on elections in some degree for years, reaching back into the previous Probate Judge Anita Mullins.

The difference since those previous years has come as Watkins went from simply working on elections, to overseeing large portions of the process as Chief Registrar. Early Voting is completely undertaken in the Registrar’s Office at the courthouse, Watkins has also spoken recently with the second recount that was called for Georgia elections about the work she and staff has undertaken.

Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins

Increasing the stipend for Probate Judge Scott Chastain as overall Superintendent would increase his pay for that process, but would not change much in the office as far as the operations. However, creating an Elections Board would increase more costs for the county as they establish an entire board for oversight.

A comment from Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson brought up another avenue explored previously by the board as she again questioned appointing another person as Election Superintendent. Previously, Watkins, as the county’s Chief Registrar, was considered to take the position of Elections Superintendent and, possibly, move the stipend from Probate Judge to Chief Registrar. Previous concerns over the election superintendent not being an elected position brought up questions about the position’s responsibility and how they answer to the people.

The commissioners agreed that they understood that the Chastain shoulders a lot of responsibility as the Elections Superintendent, and respected the request for something to be done. As discussion continued, the Commissioners opted to continue and finish out the current elections “as is.”

Moving forward, the commissioners will revisit the conversation in 2021 to take action on the item before the next big elections coming in 2022. Paris said that he wants to look into the subject and revisit the subject on a timetable rather than just leaving the item in discussion at every single commissioner’s meeting.

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