Justice Dept. OKs special election for board member

By Justin Reedy

Candidates will soon begin qualifying for a special election to fill a vacancy on the Clayton County Board of Education left open when a board member resigned earlier this year.

A bill passed by the state legislature during its last session calls for a special election to fill any vacancies on the county school board when more than 180 days remains on the term of office. But before the law could take full effect, it had to be approved by the United States Department of Justice under the federal Voting Rights Act to ensure it doesn't discriminate against minority voters.

The Justice Department informed county officials by mail Tuesday in a letter dated July 17 that the piece of legislation n Senate Bill 374 n had been cleared under the Voting Rights Act. The county had already begun preparing for the Sept. 16 special election Tuesday afternoon, according to Ann Smith, deputy election superintendent for the county. The call for an election will be published in the News Daily, the county's legal organ, on Thursday, Smith said. Qualifying for candidates will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on July 30 and 31, and from 9 a.m. to noon on Aug. 1.

The Sept. 16 election will include the school board election n which will fill an unexpired term for District 8 n as well as a countywide election for the unexpired term of Probate Judge Eugene Lawson, who retired earlier this month. Voters will also decide on a 1 percent special purpose local option sales tax increase earmarked for road improvements and parks and recreation projects.

The idea for SB 374 came up when Susan Ryan, the school board member representing the 8th District, resigned only months after taking office, leaving most of the four-year term left for that seat. Since no local legislation had been drafted regarding such a vacancy, the generic state law would have applied.

State law calls for a special election if more than two years and three months are left in the term, but that election is held at the same time as the next general election. That means in the November 2004 election, a person would be elected to fill the two years left on the District 8 post, replacing the person appointed by the board to serve in the interim.

Residents and local legislators were disappointed to hear that the state law calls for an appointee n as opposed to a duly elected board member n to serve for nearly two years on the board before being replaced. Instead, candidates will now vie to be chosen by District 8 voters to represent them until the term expires on Dec. 31, 2006.

To qualify for the school board election, candidates must pay a filing fee of $216. For more information about how to qualify for the seat, call the Clayton County Probate Court at (770) 477-3299.