Commission debates over representing board of registrars

Published 7:24 pm Monday, September 22, 2008

The Dallas County Commission on Monday authorized its attorney to file a motion requesting an extension for time in an election challenge case brought by Carolyn C. Bates.

The question remains whether John Kelly III, who represents the county, will represent two of the defendants named in the case — the Dallas County Board of Registrars and Chief Registrar Synethia Pettaway.

A lengthy debate over the county’s involvement in the matter took place during the commission’s regular meeting.

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Several commission members voiced concerns over the time and resources required should the case drag out over several years.

“It’s very clear to me that (members of) the board of registrars are state employees,” Probate Judge Kim Ballard said. “We can’t hire them, we can’t fire them. They’re not our employees. So the question comes to my mind is why would we represent someone who is not our employee?”

Kelly has until Wednesday to submit a response saying whether or not he will represent the two defendants.

Ballard said the county is required by law to provide adequate office space for the board of registrars, but is not required to cover legal fees.

Kelly said he looked into options the county could take, including asking the attorney general’s office to represent the defendants and asking for compensation from the county’s insurance company.

He received a letter from the Attorney General Troy King’s office earlier Monday saying it would not represent Pettaway and the board.

County Commissioner Connel Towns said the commission should wait until it hears a response from its insurance company before taking any definite action.

Bates claims misconduct and fraud prevented a fair municipal election on Aug. 26. She came in fourth in a field of five candidates for the Ward 4 Selma City Council seat. Angela Benjamin and Kelvin Williams will compete again each other in the runoff election Oct. 7.

Bates claims Mayor James Perkins Jr., his campaign and Concordia College officials collaborated to have students vote for Perkins and his approved slate of candidates.

Both the Perkins campaign and college officials have denied the allegation.

Bates alleges vans with Perkins’ campaign stickers on them carrying Concordia students were allowed to drive up past the 30-foot mark where campaigning is not allowed at the polls.

Attorney Collins Pettaway Jr., Synethia’s husband, said the county’s responsibility was to represent the employees of the board of registrars.

“The way the board of registrars are treated, they’re not county employees. They’re not state employees, either. They’re actually officers,” he said. “The county’s responsibility is to pay for expenses. The board may wind up saying, ‘We want to pay for our own lawyer.’ Then the county will have to end up paying.”

Ballard and members of the commission argued against Pettaway’s opinion, saying because the issue involves a city election, it excludes the county from obligation.

Commissioner Roy Moore said the commissioners “need to pull our little red wagon and let the city pull their little red wagon.”

“I can assure you if the county had this type of problem, and we went over there to ask the city council for help, we’d get laughed back over here,” Moore said.