Macon Water Authority ‘illegal’ appointment creates ‘quagmire,’ election chair says

The+COVID-19+coronavirus+pandemic+is+complicating+an+already+unusual+special+election+for+the+Macon+Water+Authority+District+2+seat+vacated+by+the+death+of+Javors+Lucas+last+fall.++

Liz Fabian

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is complicating an already unusual special election for the Macon Water Authority District 2 seat vacated by the death of Javors Lucas last fall.

A series of events has led to quite a dilemma for the Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections heading into May’s election.

Longtime water authority board member Javors Lucas died in late October, more than six months before he was up for re-election this May, which required a special election to fill his unexpired term through the end of this year.

Due to concerns over the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, that special election which was to be held March 24 along with the Presidential Preference Primary, has been postponed until May 19 – the date of Macon-Bibb County’s nonpartisan elections.

In the interim, Probate Judge Sarah Harris appointed Sheddrick Clark to hold Lucas’ seat.

Clark lives in Lizella, which is outside District 2, so he was not eligible to run for the seat.

Board of Elections chairman Henry Ficklin questioned why Clark was chosen and not someone who lived in District 2.

“The judge who swore in Mr. Clark, I believe, is working on the recommendation of the water authority,” Fickin said in Thursday’s teleconference meeting. “I think it’s really wrong and illegal for him to be serving. It means the people in that district don’t have a representative right now.”

Special to the CCJ
Sheddrick Clark, of Lizella, will serve as the District 2 representative on the Macon Water Authority until a special election.

Wednesday, board of elections attorney William Noland sent a letter to the Macon Water Authority attorney Virgil Adams seeking the authority’s position on the validity of Clark’s appointment.

Ficklin also believes the public did not realize District 2 was technically an open seat, since Clark cannot run, which led to only one person qualifying for the special election, Merritt Johnson III.

Because Johnson had no opposition, he did not need to be on the March ballot as Georgia law assumes he would have cast a vote for himself and win the seat, elections supervisor Jeanetta Watson said.

Because Lucas would have been up for re-election in May, Johnson also had to qualify for that election and faces Desmond D. Brown and Mike McIntosh in that race.

Brown has raised an objection with Ficklin about Johnson campaigning with literature that asks the public to “re-elect” him, which would have been the case because Johnson will be the victor and fill the unexpired term through the end of the year.

Merritt Johnson III has posted this image on Facebook.

 

Johnson expected to be sworn in April 1 and take office the next day, but because the special election was postponed, he won’t technically be the incumbent and shouldn’t be sworn in until after the May election.

“Mr. Johnson is campaigning as the incumbent and I don’t agree with that,” Noland told the board.

Plus, the board of elections currently lists Johnson as the incumbent on the ballot, which must be proofed and finalized by early next week, Watson said.

“This is a difficult situation,” Ficklin said. “If the water authority had not put this man in there that is, in my view, not qualified to serve, then he would be the incumbent. If we can get the other guy out and appoint (Johnson) then he will be the incumbent.”

Board member Mike Kaplan agreed.

“If they want to fire the guy they appointed and appoint Mr. Johnson, that will solve all the problems,” Kaplan said in the meeting.

“You see the quagmire we’re in?” Ficklin asked Noland.

Macon Water Authority executive director Tony Rojas said he does not believe the authority has violated any law.

“What the board was looking for was a qualified candidate who would serve well and not be a candidate for office,” Rojas said. “They’re not looking to appoint someone and give them a leg up on the election.”

Typically, the authority has informal discussions to choose a replacement and a name is submitted to the judge for final vetting and approval, Rojas said.

Clark, with his experience on the board of the Macon Transit Authority, was deemed a good choice for the temporary appointment. Ficklin maintains that the only “qualified” candidate is one living in District 2.

Ficklin said candidate Brown is seeking a definitive statement that will preclude Johnson from campaigning for re-election.

“He feels it places him and the other guy at a disadvantage,” Ficklin said.

Noland told the board that there is no legal incumbent in this race, in his opinion.

The board voted to authorize Noland to notify the water authority about the postponement of the election, removal of the incumbent designation and also let Johnson know he cannot technically call himself an incumbent.

Adams has indicated he would study the matter and issue the authority’s response Monday, but Rojas said he appreciates and respects any concerns Ficklin has raised.

“Certainly, the water authority would not knowingly violate the law,” Rojas said. “Obviously, this is an extraordinary time when you have an election postponed by a pandemic.”

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at 478-301-2976 or [email protected]