By Justin Boron
Amid some visible resistance to a relinquishment of power, the Lovejoy City Council chose a former Clayton County probate judge with 20 years' experience in election administration to determine whether Ellis Conkle meets the residential qualifications needed to run for the city's open council seat.
After close to 15 minutes of deliberation, the City Council unanimously named former Clayton County Probate Judge and Elections Director Eugene Lawson as the election superintendent who will adjudicate the protest of Conkle's eligibility.
The decision, which stems from a complaint filed by candidate Angela Cannon, precludes the City Council from interfering in the Sept. 21 election.
The choice of Lawson came at the recommendation of the city's attorney, Greg Hecht, who called the former elections director "extraordinarily independent, neutral, and above politicizing."
Hecht said he searched for possible superintendents in six surrounding probate courts. But he settled on Lawson.
"We should have looked at retired judges a lot sooner," he said.
Lawson accepted the position and said he plans to settle the matter in a public hearing at Lovejoy City Hall on Tuesday.
Conkle's qualification to run has generated a wave of dissent in the community, which he said relates to his vocal dissatisfaction with City Hall and "the clique" that runs it. Council members Peggy Johnson and Arlie Aukerman demonstrated some frustration over the election decision's removal from the City Council's grasp and asked if Lawson's decision would be final.
"Why can't the City Council approve or disapprove of this?" Aukerman asked.
Just before the vote, council member Peggy Johnson appeared distressed and laid her head into her hands, lending some physical animation to the undercurrent of opposition against Conkle that has swelled in City Hall in the last week.
Some council members and City Hall employees have repeatedly expressed skepticism over Conkle's eligibility, citing a statement from council minutes in which Conkle admits he lives in Henry County.
Conkle said he is indefatigable on the issue of his candidacy, illustrating his unrelenting commitment through election signs already posted throughout the community.
"I'm not backing down," he said.