Protests target board make up

Published 10:23 pm Saturday, October 29, 2011

While their numbers may fluctuate daily, it appears the resolve of a group of protestors isn’t.

In an effort to bring attention to the recent appointments to the Dallas County Board of Registrars, the Cocoa Party, and the Selma Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has picketed, nearly daily the Dallas County Courthouse for what they call is the “Republican Party’s efforts to turn back the clock on voting rights in Alabama.”

In mid-September, Gov. Robert Bentley, State Auditor Samantha Shaw and Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillian appointed new members to the board of registrars in Dallas County and other Alabama counties.

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In their appointments, the state leaders appointed a board of registrars that did not have a single member who was African American.

“Not only did these Republican officials oust all black registrars from majority black Dallas County, but only three African Americans were appointed in the entire state of Alabama,” said Faya Rose Toure, coordinator of the Cocoa Party protest.

In an interview in early October, after the new members of the board took office, Ozetta Thomas, chairperson of the Dallas County Democratic Executive Committee heavily criticized the make-up of the new board and said the committee was seeking options to help 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,” 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. Their appointments took effect Oct. 1.

“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,” former board member Synethia Pettaway said in a previous interview with the Times-Journal. Pettaway was a member of the previous board and was appointed for the first time in 1999 by then Gov. Don Siegelman.

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 dynamics that are always at play here, it is insensitive because it [board] doesn’t look like what the county looks like,” Melton said following the appointments. “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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