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Office makeup criticized

Members of the Dallas County Democratic Executive Committee and elected Democrats are crying foul over the recent changeover at the Dallas County Board of Registrar’s office.

Effective Oct. 1, the office, some say, no longer reflects the political and racial makeup of Dallas County and some are examining what can be done to make changes.

“We are looking at some options and those with our state committee are looking in to what our options might be to change what has happened,” Dallas County Democratic Executive Committee chairperson Ozetta Thomas said. “This is simply absurd.”

In mid-September, the Alabama Secretary of State’s office announced the Dallas County Board of Registrars appointees, naming Frank Driskell, Pat Phillips and Bobby Willis to the board.

Only Phillips returns to the board and is the only one, ousted board member and former board chairwoman Synethia Pettaway said, that has any experience in the office.

“These appointments have taken us back to 1965,” Pettaway said, referring to the fact that all three board members are white. “I am a child of 1965 and to have a board that does not reflect in anyway the residents and voters of Dallas County is troubling.”

Pettaway, who was the first African American woman to be chair of the Dallas County Board of Registrars when she was appointed in 1999 by then Gov. Don Siegelman, has spent the past 12 years on the board and was reappointed twice by former Gov. Bob Riley.

“I have taken a lot of pride in my work with the office and taken a lot of pride in being a public servant to those in Dallas County,” Pettaway said. “I wasn’t even told ahead of time that I would not be reappointed. I heard for the first time when listening to a radio show.”

Pettaway made sure to express that her disappointment was not with those individuals selected, but in the make-up of the board.

“I am sure they are fine individuals,” Pettaway said. “I have no problem with them. But, Selma is the capital of the civil rights movement and the voting rights movement. This just doesn’t make any sense to have a board that does not have an African American and does not reflect Dallas County.”

The press release, sent out Thursday, Sept. 15, announced that Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Driskell, while Alabama State Auditor Samantha Shaw reappointed Phillips. Willis was the third and final appointee and was appointed by Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillian.

State Rep. Darrio Melton (D-Selma) said he and other legislators are not only concerned about the make-up of the board, but the timing of the changes.

“With the state currently going through redistricting, I don’t think it was wise to make these changes right now,” Melton said. “It would seem you would want someone familiar with the county and the areas. It might have been a completely different issue if this had happened after the redistricting process.”

Even though Melton concedes the timing of the appointment and those who are appointed are up to the governor and other state officials, the lack of an African American on the board makes the governor appear “insensitive” to those in the Black Belt and specifically Dallas County.

“With the dynamics that are always at play here, it is insensitive because it [board] doesn’t look like what the county looks like,” Melton said. “It is the governor’s right, but I think he was insensitive and I don’t think it was wise during this time.”
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