BY BRIAN JONES
The Clay County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to vacate Wendy Fuller’s post as election commissioner with District 1 Supervisor Lynn Horton and District 4 Supervisor Shelton Deanes voting no. Fuller has served for 12 years.
The vacancy will be filled in the November election.
Fuller appeared before the board May 9 to depend herself after failing to receive mandatory state training. Fuller presented part of her case in open session before going into executive session to discuss personal medical issues.
County Attorney Bob Marshall explained the situation.
“The statute [23-15-211] says that each election commissioner shall receive a certificate from the secretary of state indicating that they have received training and is fully qualified to conduct an election,” Marshall said. “ ‘If a commissioner has not received the certificate by April 30, his office shall be vacated absent exigent circumstances as determined by the board of supervisors as consistent with the facts.’ Prior to declaring the office vacant, the board must give the commissioner notice and a public hearing. That’s what we’re here for today.
“This is an opportunity for Ms. Fuller to explain herself to the board,” Marshall said. “It is not a hearing for public input. There may be some matters that we will need to hear in executive session, if they become overly personal in nature. The board’s deliberation will be in executive session. Should the board desire to make a decision today, they will come out of executive session and we will have a vote on it. This hearing is because this section of the code has been triggered. Ms. Fuller did not get her training certificate back by the deadline. The board can either determine that there were no exigent circumstances and vacate the office, or they can determine that there were and the office will not be vacated. Those are really the only two choices you have.”
Fuller explained that she missed part of a training session due to a family medical issue and due to unexpected road construction on her route.
“I was in no way negligent in this process,” Fuller said. “It was due to extenuating circumstances, and the circumstances just kept rolling. I have an issue that is medical, that is not mine, and a family issue that is ongoing that played a role in that.”
Fuller claimed that she completed most of her requirement for training.
“I wrote an appeal letter to the attorney general’s office explaining that I arrived late by 20 minutes,” she said. “I completed 13.5 of 14 hours of the section. I had extenuating circumstances beyond my control that morning due to a medical need and that of rerouting on Lake Road. That road was being worked on. I had drove that road that morning and came back home, but when I got up to leave the second time the road was closed. At no time was there anything that made me question that road was going to be closed. I live down in a bottom, and in going the other way I had to go north, to Tupelo almost, and I needed to come to the West Point area. I went around, and when I got to the area of Wilcox Road there was two trucks there and they was doing something with the bridges. They didn’t have the road closed, but I had to wait until they allowed me passage.”
Fuller explained she also had a medical emergency that morning.
“I had received a call from the school about a medical emergency with my son,” she said. “I had to go to the pharmacy.”
Marshall cut her off at this point, telling her to give those personal medical details in executive session.
“I am a single mother and I also take care of my elderly aunt,” she said. “Any time I’m going to be out of the county, there is a lot of preparation I have to do. It was not that I was negligent. It was that I had emergencies to take care of.”
Fuller explained that she was 20 minutes late, and tried to go through the process to get a waiver that would give her credit for being there.
“I thought I was good,” she said. “Nobody called me. I didn’t get notification that there was a problem for 49 days.”
Fuller said the information had been mistakenly sent to her sister, not to her. She also said that other documentation from the secretary of state’s office was sent to a post office box that she infrequently checks.
“I’m a little grief stricken on this,” she said. “I’m a hard core and aggressive person. I strive for perfection, but I am no means perfect. I have worked hard for the 12 years that I’ve been on the commission to share what I’ve learned. We have accomplished a lot in this county. In 2012 Clay County was number one in voter turnout. That shows this commission works. I feel I have been able to contribute to that.”
District 4 Supervisor Shelton Deanes spoke on Fuller’s behalf.
“She was elected from my district, but if the people of the other districts needed her help, she went out of her way to help,” Deanes said. “She has stuck her neck out to try to better this county. There is a lot of things that she has done, a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of hours that she was in this courthouse. I want to say this while everyone is here, and we’re in open session. She’s a remarkable lady. She has helped to raise this county up. She has raised hell with pretty much everyone around this table, but she was trying to get the job done right. How many others are going to do what she has already done?
“I’m not going to tell you that you owe Wendy Fuller anything,” Deanes concluded. “But you all owe District 4.”
“I want to thank you for your representation here,” said District 3 Supervisor RB Davis. “Ever since I’ve been involved in politics here your name has always been out there. You have done a really good job. I haven’t make a decision yet, but it will be based on the law. There is nothing personal and no animosity.”
“You’re the reason I’m here,” said District 1 Lynn Horton. “When I first got here there was a man in Monroe County who had a home in Shelton’s district who was really against me. And you got him. You did your research. That’s the real reason I’m here.”
The board went into executive session for a little over an hour to allow Fuller to discuss details of personal medical issues and to deliberate. [Ms. Fuller made her case and then left the room – she was not present while deliberations were going on. – Brian Jones] When they emerged from behind closed doors, Deanes called for a motion. District 3 Supervisor RB Davis made a motion to vacate the office, and was seconded by District 2 Supervisor Luke Lummus.
“This is probably the hardest decision I’ve ever been involved in,” Davis said. “The state has dumped this in our lap. You can run again in November. If we kept you on, you wouldn’t be able to get paid.”
The motion passed 3-2. As Davis said, Fuller will be eligible to run in November to reclaim the post.