What: Organizational meeting to recall Hall County Commissioner Craig Lutz
When: 9:30 a.m. today
Where: Curt's Cafeteria, 3440 Branch Road, Oakwood
A group of Hall County residents are starting their efforts to recall Hall County Commissioner Craig Lutz.
They're meeting this morning to decide how to collect signatures and overcome what several people have called an "uphill battle."
"We're going to gather and see if there are enough people to pursue this," said Michael Parker, a Hall County Democrat who is acting as spokesman of the group. "I think it's a long uphill battle and will take a tremendous amount of effort and maybe quite a bit of money. I don't know."
Several residents began calling for the process at the end of January. South Hall resident Cliff McGlamry created the "Recall Craig Lutz" Facebook group, which now has 27 members.
McGlamry was upset by Jan. 6 actions of Lutz and Commissioners Scott Gibbs and Ashley Bell and wanted to start by removing Lutz, his district commissioner.
McGlamry, who describes himself as a moderate who hasn't been involved in county government before, said he was disturbed by the removal of the county's administrator, assistant administrator, finance director and attorney, moves the three commissioners approved.
When he read that Lutz proposed reducing the powers of commission Chairman Tom Oliver, he decided he needed to do something.
"There's a lot of motivation from what happened in January. That's my motivation," Parker agreed.
"Someone who has worked hard and hasn't done anything wrong shouldn't be fired. They should be given some notice, and it should be done quietly and compassionately."
However, the recall process can't start until after an elected official's first 180 days in office, which for Lutz falls in July.
To apply for a recall, organizers must pick up an application from the Hall County Elections Office and gather 100 signatures within 15 days from registered voters in the district where the official was elected.
The elections office must verify the signatures in 30 days. At that point, the recall effort is certified as official and petitions must be circulated to gather a certain percent of voter signatures from within the district. In this case, signatures equaling 15 percent of the number of persons that voted in 2010 general election would be needed.
If those signatures are verified, the recall election is called.
In the meantime, the subject of the recall has the right to petition a Superior Court judge to determine whether legal grounds exist to recall him. A recall election can only be called if an elected official has committed acts of malfeasance or misconduct in office, has violated his oath of office or willfully misusing public funds.
"I know only a little about the process," Parker said. "To me, it sounds like practically running an election to get him unelected. That's why these first couple of meetings will discuss organization."
In March 2010, a group of residents attempted to recall Oliver. They collected the necessary signatures during the application process, but the elections office could only verify 98 signatures, ending the ability to proceed with the petition.
"I am encouraged that people are getting involved in local government. This is part of the democratic process," Lutz said Thursday. "I believe it's an uphill battle, but the fact that people are getting together and talking about what's going on doesn't bother me at all."
But Lutz is curious about the portion that requires a recall petition.
"At some point, they have to determine what to accuse me of as far as charges go, and frankly, I don't believe I have done anything wrong," he said.
"So for now, I think it's great that they're meeting and talking."
In various postings, Parker has called the meeting a nonpartisan event that will itemize the charges against Lutz. The group will select committee members and create an action plan. He encourages everyone to bring a copy of the Roberts Rules of Order.
"There are a number of things we're going to bring out in the meeting that I'd rather not discuss yet," said Bobby Hulsey, a member of Hall County's Tax Assessors Board. "We're not saying anything like he stole money or did anything at the status of a felony, but some things were wrong and he did violate some of the Georgia code."
A few residents who want to recall Bell may attend the meeting as well, Hulsey noted.
"They asked me if they could attend, and that's the only connection I've had with the Ashley Bell campaign," he said. "I'm glad they're interested, though, because Ashley was one of the key players in everything that went on."
However, Parker wants to keep discussion centered on Lutz for now.
"I want us to be focused on this tough job we have to recall one sitting commissioner," he said. "I would love to recall Ashley Bell, too, but he's not in my district."
Concerns about Bell stem less from the January actions and more from switching from the Democratic party to Republican, Parker said.
"Some years ago when I was not involved in the Democratic Party at all, Ashley Bell was someone who was trying to keep the party together and keep it stronger, which brought me into the local organization," he said. "Then he switched parties, and I don't see any good reason for him to have done that if he's still the same person with the same values he had when he shook hands with President (Barack) Obama."
Bell isn't worried about the recall process.
"I've gotten calls of support in my district, and this is not focusing on the people's business. It's a big waste of time," he said. "They need to move on and worry about serious issues, such as passing a budget without increasing the tax burden. It's not even on my radar to take it seriously."
As the process moves forward, Parker hopes to steer clear of name-calling.
"We're going to treat Mr. Lutz like he should be treated. He is an elected official and a public figure, and there is no reason to demean his person or involve any of the terrible things that people have been saying about him," Parker said. "We're going to keep it professional and come up with a very clear list of things that we're concerned about."
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the process leading to a recall election.