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County attorney has a conflict of interest

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Dear editor:

Barry Fleming is the attorney for Putnam County in addition to being a city or county attorney for other parts of Georgia, and also serves as a Georgia state house representative near Augusta. He is the chair of the special elections committee and authored Georgia’s HB 531 in the Georgia House of Representatives and is working to revise “substitute SB 241” in the Georgia Senate. Passage of these bills (or a combination of items from them both) will result, among other things, in loss of local autonomy with regard to elections, increased voting-related costs and administrative burdens on counties and municipalities, new voting security risks, and frankly, suppression of voter turnout.

Mr. Fleming’s dual role as a politician and our county attorney creates a serious conflict of interest: how can we as Putnam County residents trust that our county attorney – who oversees legal matters including voting - has the best interests of the county and its residents in mind while as a politician he’s actively working to make the county spend more money and have less control over their voting processes, and making it harder for our citizens to vote?

It is not lost on us that Mr. Fleming’s undemocratic draft bills dovetail nicely with the County’s restrictions on the use of the county courthouse grounds for free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. The Georgia First Amendment Foundation, a non-profit at the University of Georgia, recently wrote to the Putnam County Commissioners questioning the legality of the County’s position. It should be noted that just last week, following public protests, Hancock County asked for and received Mr. Fleming’s resignation as their county attorney. It is clear that Mr. Fleming’s flagrant lack of care for the constitution and its amendments, his political visions for usurping local government autonomy, and his utter lack of concern for localities already facing huge budget pressures are incongruent with the needs of our county.

We respectfully request that the Putnam County Commissioners immediately commence a review and evaluation of the potential conflict of interest of Mr. Fleming to act in the county’s best interest as their lawyer. If the review, which should be made public, concludes there is a conflict, then ask for his resignation.

Sincerely,

Erin M. Keating, Russ Greenhalgh, Karen Henry-Garrett, Richard Garrett, Don Sadler, Drace Langford, Ann Laidlaw, Marion Warren, Sandra Parha, Sarah Maslayakan, Paige and David Erickson and Stanley Ford (Chairman of the Eatonton Democratic Party)