The Rev. Tom Smiley has been appointed as chairman of the Hall County Board of Elections.
Smiley was appointed in a 4-1 vote by the Hall County Board of Commissioners over the objections of the two Democratic members of the elections board, Kimberly Copeland and Gala Sheats, who wrote a letter opposing Smiley that was read aloud on Thursday.
They said his public statements supporting the Republican Party disqualified him “per se” from serving as chairman of the board, which is a nonpartisan position. The other seats on the board are held by two Republicans and two Democrats.
“We protest this appointment vigorously,” they wrote, while noting they respect Smiley’s work in the community.
They continued that the work of the Hall County Elections Office and the Board of Elections must be done in a “manner to be sure that the rights of all voters and potential voters are respected and ensured. We, while partisan members of the board, take these obligations seriously.”
Commissioner Jeff Stowe was the lone dissenter against the appointment, saying he was a personal friend of Smiley but given the objections of the rest of the elections board thought the commission should consider other appointments.
Smiley is the pastor of Lakewood Baptist Church. He runs a blog called Uncommon Common Sense where he talks about current events, culture, faith and politics.
Commission Chairman Richard Higgins granted that Smiley had conservative positions, but said he was the right man for the job.
“They may have some valid points, but I know Tom and I know his heart,” Higgins said after the meeting. “I think he’s a good man, and he believes in the elections process. That’s what we have to do — we have to get past this Democratic and Republican thing. We’re all Hall Countians, Americans, whatever, and for us to go forward we have to work together. I know Tom is good at working with people.”
Higgins recommended Smiley to the commission.
Smiley made news in May 2016 when Lakewood Baptist pulled its support of Family Promise, a charity for homeless families, as the group planned to accept a gay couple into its program.
In a letter written to the charity at the time and posted on the church’s website, Smiley noted the church’s investments should go to organizations that support physical needs as well as “make disciples of Christ.” Smiley said Family Promise’s executive director “made clear we don’t hold this common goal.”
Smiley told The Times on Thursday that while he considers himself conservative, he’s not a member of the Hall County Republican Party.
Asked about the opposition from Sheats and Copeland, Smiley said he would “just do my very, very best to represent all the people of Hall County the best way I can and will be as honest and fair and demonstrate as much integrity as possible.”
Commissioner Billy Powell, who offered the motion to appoint Smiley, said after the meeting that he was confident in the preacher and said he would act with integrity while on the board.
Powell also noted to The Times that Copeland and Sheats were now claiming partisanship was an issue, but in April both of them voted in favor of bilingual ballots while the board only had three members and was weighted Democratic.
Local Democratic activist Michelle Sanchez Jones also spoke on Thursday against Smiley’s appointment.
She spoke about hearing Smiley speak on the radio the night of the November general election, noting that he called a Georgia Democrat a “murderer” for supporting abortion.
The motion to appoint Smiley was offered by Powell and seconded by Commissioner Scott Gibbs. It was approved by both men along with Higgins and Commissioner Kathy Cooper.
The other members of the Board of Elections are Copeland, Sheats and Republicans Craig Lutz and Ken Cochran.