The possibility of a recall effort being launched against Commissioner Tommy Hunter grew more uncertain as the state-mandated waiting period to begin such an effort expired.
Gwinnett County Democratic Party Chairman Gabe Okoye and other community leaders aligned against Hunter over controversial comments he made on Facebook were briefed by attorneys this week on whether a recall would be possible against Hunter.
But state law stipulates recalls can only be pursued if an elected official committed certain actions. Okoye and others have said there may be some uncertainty as to whether Hunter’s comments, including calling U.S. Rep. John Lewis a “racist pig” and referring to Democrats as “Demonrats” and “Libtards,” would meet that threshold.
“The decision is not quite final yet, but it does not look like we will be pursuing a recall of Mr. Hunter,” Okoye told the Daily Post in an email. “The grounds/basis for a recall is not very solid.”
Okoye’s comments raise further questions on what will happen next in the Hunter saga now that the Board of Commissioners publicly reprimanded him for his remarks on social media. A recall wasn’t an option until the end of this past week, when a 180 day waiting period required under state law expired.
The commission’s reprimand of Hunter has been posted at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center and on the county’s website. It was also published in the legals section of the Daily Post on Wednesday.
Donna McLeod, another community leader involved in the discussions on whether to pursue a recall, said there are differences in seeking an ethics sanction versus pursuing a recall, though.
“The ethics violation was a county ordinance that he violated, but a recall would have to meet criteria at the state level,” she said.
Official Code of Georgia Annotated section 21-4-3 outlines the grounds for a recall as a determination that “the official has, while holding public office, conducted himself or herself in a manner which relates to and adversely affects the administration of his or her office and adversely affects the rights and interests of the public.”
It goes on to list several actions committed by the officials that are included as grounds for a recall. The actions include violating their oath of office, committing malfeasance, committing “an act of misconduct,” failing to perform their duties and deliberately misusing, converting or misappropriating public funds or property without permission.
The law also says “discretionary performance of a lawful act or a prescribed duty shall not constitute a ground for recall of an elected public official.”
“For the application, we would have to get about 100 signatures and then to do the recall would require maybe 36,000 signatures based on the population, the voting age population, in District III,” McLeod said. “So, we looked at it. We could do all of that and bring it to a judge and the judge might throw it out (if) we’re not meeting the aspect of violation of his office based on the state requirement for him violating it.”
But Hunter’s spokesman, Seth Weathers, challenged his client’s opponents, inviting them to fund what he called a “lost cause” if they wanted to.
“I think the Democrats should spend a lot of money pursuing a recall election,” he said.
If there is no recall effort, the Hunter issue could go in a few different directions, but it’s unclear which one it will be.
Could it be a continuing cycle of protesters attending commission meetings to call for his resignation, only to see him leave at the beginning of the public comment period? Perhaps. That trend already continued at two meetings held on Tuesday.
Might Hunter give his opponents what they want and step down? That’s probably unlikely since he and Weathers have said in the past that he won’t resign. His camp has also pledged to continue fighting his reprimand in the courts even though a judge threw out his initial legal challenge this week.
Is it possible that the protests could eventually die down all together? That could be equally as unlikely since Hunter’s opponents aren’t ready to throw in the towel yet.
“We are discussing several options that we are planning,” McLeod said.