As this newspaper is going to press on Oct. 2, an important court hearing is taking place in Jackson County.
Judge David R. Sweat is hearing the two recall challenges filed by Hoschton mayor Theresa Kenerly and mayor pro tem Jim Cleveland in a bid to halt the recall movement against them.
A group of local citizens started a recall campaign against Kenerly and Cleveland in August after Kenerly allegedly pulled a candidate's resume for the city administrator position because he is black and said the city wasn't "ready for that." Cleveland defended Kenerly in a news article and also expressed his views against interracial relationships.
This week's court hearing is a move by Kenerly and Cleveland to block the recall effort by showing that there isn't sufficient grounds for the recall to move forward.
I'm not a big fan of recalls. Many, if not most, recall efforts are driven by a sense of mob mentality — let's get the SOBs because they did something we don't like.
Most recall efforts should happen at election time when incumbents face voters. Only in rare cases should a sitting public official be removed from office.
In addition, Georgia's laws make it almost impossible to recall a public official. Many efforts fail before they get started due to the extensive paperwork required. Very, very few recalls are successful in Georgia.
Still, every year in the state, several recall efforts are mounted. So far in 2019, there has been one other recall effort in the state outside of the Hoschton movement.
In Chattooga County, a recall was mounted against a school board chairman earlier this year. That effort failed after a judge ruled there wasn't a sufficient reason for the recall. (Chattooga County in Northwest Georgia was my hometown when I was a very young child; the politics there make Jackson County's look like kindergarten play.)
That question of "sufficiency" is the focus of this week's court hearing in the Hoschton cases. Georgia is one of three states that sets a high bar for any recall vote to be held. Those pushing a recall have to show that the reason behind the move is more than just political; there has to be a sufficient reason for a judge to let a recall movement go forward.
Most of the time, judges rule against the recall efforts in the state.
That may or may not happen with the Hoschton case — as of this writing, the outcome is unknown.
But there has been one previous local recall case that may illuminate some of the issues at play here.
Exactly 10 years ago this month, there was a massive recall movement in the town of Pendergrass filed against the mayor and four city council members. That effort came after a group of "whistleblowers" hired a lawyer and made a number of serious allegations against the town's elected leaders. Some of those allegations involved misusing public funds, such as paying a city worker (who was not legally in the country) with SPLOST funds, which is against state law, and that city credit cards were being used for private purchases by some city employees.
After six hours of hearings, the judge ruled that there wasn't sufficient reason for the recall effort to go forward (some of the whistleblowers later won a civil suit against the city, a case that is currently on appeal.)
All of that bodes ill for the move to recall the two Hoschton officials. The Pendergrass allegations were serious and involved pretty clear evidence of public money being misused, but even that wasn't enough grounds for a recall. It's difficult to see how the allegations against the Hoschton officials are any worse than what was alleged in Pendergrass in 2009.
That's especially true for Cleveland. Although he said some very bigoted stuff to the media, that by itself isn't illegal. Being a racist and dumb enough to show it in public isn't against the law.
Kenerly's case is a little different in that she is being accused of taking an action as a public official that might have been against federal hiring laws. Job candidates cannot be discriminated against based on their race.
But even there, the issue is fuzzy. Exactly what Kenerly did isn't clear and how her actions ultimately affected the hiring process is also unclear. The black candidate withdrew his application after he took another job and before Hoschton made any hiring action.
All of that makes the recall effort in Hoschton something of a gamble for those pursuing it.
On the one hand, it does keep the issue alive politically as a city election approaches. Although neither Kenerly nor Cleveland are on the ballot this year, their actions did draw out other candidates. The result of the election could change the balance of power on the city council. And if the recall movement goes forward and the two are removed from office, it would be a strong signal to other local public officials.
But if a judge rules in Kenerly and Cleveland's favor and the recall is stopped, the two can claim they were vindicated by the court, even if that vindication is on technical and not ethical grounds.
Watch for the court's decision to be posted on our website when we receive it at Mainstreetnews.com.