“It’s not an easy job, but we did bump heads, and I didn’t really appreciate being sued and having to pay another lawyer,” Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Higgins said before the vote. “But Tom did a good job overall. We get along fine now. We just need somebody new to come in there.”
In early 2021, the county commission challenged the election board over the responsibility for supervising the county’s election director, Lori Wurtz.
The elections director has traditionally reported to the board of elections; the county felt the position should report to the county administrator’s office.
The election board ended up suing the county commission over the issue, and ultimately a negotiated settlement in May 2021 left responsibility for oversight, including the power to hire and fire, with the board of elections.
Smiley, who is in his sixth year on the board, wasn’t happy with Thursday’s vote.
“Yes, we did have some legal issues. We discussed them, I thought, in a man-to-man kind of way. We couldn’t resolve them outside of a court, so we allowed the court to give a remedy.”
He added: “I’m sorry they got their feelings hurt. I would have hoped they would have risen above that and continued to do what’s best for Hall County.”
Otherwise, “I was extremely honored to serve the people of Hall County, and we had a lot of great successes.”
Smiley had bipartisan support from election board members, who described him as hard-working and honorable.
Democrat David Kennedy called the commission’s vote an act of retribution, “especially in light of the job he has done.”
Republican Craig Lutz, while lauding Smiley’s service, noted a political reality.
“The chairman does serve at the pleasure of the board, and it is their right to determine who’s going to be in that seat,” he said.
Noa, an alpaca farm owner and fiber mill operator, was part of a four-man race to replace District 3 Commissioner Shelly Echols. Gregg Poole ultimately won the seat and starts his new role as commissioner on Jan. 1.
“Jack actually wanted to do it. He was really interested in it,” Higgins said of the election board role. “He’s very articulate. It’s hard to find someone who’s really interested in doing it, because it’s not an easy job.”
Noa, who also has a military background, said he was “very interested” in the post, noting that he had read through Senate Bill 202, a controversial elections overhaul bill that passed the legislature in 2021.
“I’ve read all the rules and regulations for the last two years,” he said.
Noa said he plans to be an “observer” until he starts his term, including through the Nov. 8 election.
“The goal is not to have an active part … but to learn through this election cycle,” he said. “It will give me a better background when we do the transition.”