Hearn apologizes for his silence on vote for cousin to elections board
After enduring criticism from a handful of residents Thursday night, Fayette County Commissioner Lee Hearn apologized for not previously disclosing that the commission’s appointee to the Fayette County Elections Board was in fact his second cousin.
“I am sorry that I didn’t divulge that,” Hearn said. “I made a mistake. And I sincerely apologize for that. I know that many of you know I’m sincere and a real person. Others are somewhat skeptical and I will tell you that the good Lord in heaven knows my heart and knows my intentions are good, and that’s who I’m really worried about at this stage of the game.”
The board appointed Addison Lester to the position on a 3-2 vote at its Feb. 24 meeting, with Hearn and commissioners Herb Frady and Robert Horgan voting in favor, and commissioners Allen McCarty and Steve Brown voting against.
Hearn’s relationship to Lester was revealed at the April 6 commission meeting when Brown asked Hearn if he was related to Lester. Hearn then admitted that Lester was his mother’s cousin.
At Thursday’s meeting, Hearn said Lester wasn’t the only person he spoke with about taking the position, and he felt that Lester “is of impeccable character.”
“I tried to pick men I felt like would do a great job in putting together a great plan and running that department like it needs to be,” Hearn said.
Hearn’s comments came at the very end of the meeting under a portion reserved for “commissioner reports.”
But it was earlier in the meeting that critics verbally flayed Hearn at the podium during citizen comments.
Peachtree City resident Ray Watt said that Hearn had plenty of time to divulge his relationship with Lester since the vote had been tabled once and was thus considered at a second meeting.
“Mr. Hearn’s recent disclosure is amazing because it didn’t come out until he was caught,” Watt said. “That says a lot about the character of somebody.”
County resident Steve Smithfield suggested the appointment was a matter of nepotism, and that commissioners Frady and Horgan also had responsibility since they voted for the appointment.
Resident Gail Onesi suggested that Hearn was “deceitful” in initially claiming that Lester was “someone you described as who you knew from church” instead of his cousin.
She further alleged that Lester could not be impartial in overseeing Hearn’s re-election next year.
Denise Ognio said she felt Hearn made a mistake, and she asked the commission to rescind the appointment and revisit the matter.
“We need the best person in this office, and I don’t think the guy you nominated was,” Ognio said, asking that the commission consider re-appointing Marilyn Watts to the elections board.
The elections board consists of three members: one appointed by the commission and one appointed by the Fayette County Democratic and Republican parties.
Watts, who has drawn praise for her knowledge of election law and willingness to serve, was replaced on the board by the commission’s 3-2 vote in favor of Lester.