BLUE RIDGE, Ga: With Post One-elect Johnny Scearce continuing to recover from COVID-19-related illnesses, Fannin County Commissioners discussed the board’s options until he assumes responsibilities.
At this time, there’s not a set timeline for Scearce to take his oath of office and begin his commission term. However, the law is ambiguous about when the oath of office must be administered – in other words, there’s not a deadline.
The most recent legislation concerning election officials in Fannin occurred in 1987, “Fannin County – Compensation, etc. of Board of Commissioners No. 1117.” In the act, it stated, “Thereafter, their successors shall be elected at the general election immediately preceding the expiration of their terms of office and shall take office on the first day of January immediately following their election for terms of four years and until their successors are elected and qualified.”
“Qualified” refers to a commissioner-elect taking the oath of office and being bonded. According to County Attorney Lynn Doss, since Scearce has yet to take his oath, former Post One Earl Johnson remains the commissioner.
“Mr. Johnson has agreed that if needed. He automatically holds over. His term of office doesn’t end until the next person is sworn in,” Doss explained. “He holds over with the same obligations and privileges as he has held for the previous four years to the extent needed, and he desires to and is willing to until Mr. Scearce can be sworn in.”
Chairman Jamie Hensley asked, “Let’s just say that Mr. Johnson decides he would be more than happy to help us. Three weeks down the road, he decides ‘I got out of it for a reason.”
According to Doss, if Johnson decided he didn’t want to continue with Post One duties, it wouldn’t be considered a vacancy because it doesn’t fall under the list of nine types of vacancies described by the state. It wouldn’t trigger a special election period because Johnson’s a “holdover” from the previous board until Scearce assumes his responsibilities.
“Then the two of you would continue on,” Doss asserted. She cited when Tommy Stephens died, the recall election, and other examples when two commissioners presided over the board.
However, none of those individuals were taking a new office at the time. The current situation has never occurred in Fannin County before.
The county attorney stated that the law doesn’t address how many meetings a commissioner can miss either. She cited the Georgia attorney general in 1991, who deemed that after three meetings with no communication as to why someone was absent, they can be “deemed to abandon their job.”
Georgia Code determines vacancies by the following criteria: death, resignation, competent tribunal declares office vacant, voluntary act or misfortune of the incumbent that renders them ineligible, non-citizens of state or county, failure to obtain certificates, commissions, or bond, and abandoning office.
Scearce made great strides to overcome COVID-19 and its related illnesses and would prefer to take the oath in person. If needed, he could obtain a doctor’s note to perform Post One duties remotely, but according to Doss, he physically doesn’t meet the “bodily infirmity” vacancy standard.
Hensley and Post Two Glenn Patterson wished Scearce a continued speedy recovery and prayers to him and his family.