This is obviously something that we should take off our desk, especially when there is a department that does it.Mayor Russ Deen
SPRINGFIELD — The City of Guyton has been forced to resort to Plan B.
During its March 8 meeting, the Effingham County Board of Elections & Registration rejected Mayor Russ Deen’s request for county officials to handle Guyton’s next election in November. Deen was greatly disappointed by the decision that came one month after the board tabled the matter.
The mayor said, “Every human being that I’ve talked to outside of the (Elections & Registration Office) and the elections board goes, “Oh, yeah. That makes perfect sense.’ It’s one of those rare times in life where there is such an obvious answer.”
The City of Guyton, which offered to pay the county’s cost, cited staffing issues and a lack of elections training as the reasons for seeking help. The board countered that the Elections & Registration office also has staffing concerns and that the City of Guyton has had ample time to train its city clerk, Tina Chadwick, about election laws and procedures.
Director of Elections & Registration Olivia Morgan voiced resistance to Deen’s request at each of the meetings it was discussed.
“It boils down to the department and the board refused to run the Guyton election, staff is unwilling to run the election and the board is unwilling to buck or run their department,” Deen said. “Guyton is willing to pay anything above their regular operations so the cost of the election would be completely covered by the City of Guyton.”
During the February board meeting, Deen lauded county elections officials for the way they handled a contentious November 2019 runoff in Guyton. They were called in on the heels of a 216-216 tie in a city council race that shook citizens’ confidence in the city-run election.
“The follow-up runoff was managed perfectly,” Deen said. “It was beautifully done and helped everyone to feel comfortable with the process, and was viewed as a success by my entire community. It was part of the reason that Guyton was able to move forward and have the great year they we’ve had.”
Before the board took up the matter again at the March 8 meeting, Chairman Tommy Allen told his fellow board members that City Manager John Klimm had indicated to him that the City of Rincon might be interested in the county running its elections at some point. Klimm also mentioned the possibility during the initial Rincon City Council meeting in February.
“Not that that plays any role in this,” Allen said, “but if the cities are heading that way, then we need to have a discussion and maybe get the (Effingham County Board of Commissioners) to staff us so that we can handle something like that.”
Deen believes it is the perfect time for that discussion to happen. Morgan reported in February that her office is set to undergo and 3,000-square-foot addition, representing a 30 percent space increase, and the mayor thinks it would be appropriate to consider boosting elections staff, too.
One full-time addition is included in Morgan’s current budget proposal. Presently, there are three full-time elections employees.
“This is obviously something that we should take off our desk, especially when there is a department that does it,” Deen said after the vote. “I’m not looking to throw anybody under the bus or make any enemies but, at the end of the day, the Board of Elections should be willing to run elections in Effingham County.”
Typically, the Elections & Registration plays a limited role in Guyton elections, verifying absentee ballot signatures, etc. Morgan expressed a willingness to continue in that regard.