Independent candidates Ryan Repetske and Melissa Eagling submitted petitions signed by registered voters in Oconee County on Tuesday asking to have their names appear on the ballot in November for the Board of Education.
If the signatures for each of the candidates are verified to be of properly registered voters, Repetske’s name will appear as an Independent in November with Republican Amy Parrish for Post 2 and Eagling will appear as an Independent with Republican Ryan Hammock for Post 3.
The Democrats did not put up any candidates for the two races.
Parrish is the incumbent Post 2 commissioner, while incumbent Post 3 Commissioner Wayne Bagley is stepping down at the end of his term in December.
State law requires that Repetske and Eagling each had obtained signatures from 5 percent of the registered voters in Oconee County in 2018, when Post 2 and Post 3 on the Board of Education were last on the November ballot.
That translates to 1,425 signatures.
Courtney Davis, who notarized the petitions, said Tuesday morning that each candidate had received more than 1,660 signatures.
Rebecca Anglin, Director of Elections and Registration for Oconee County, confirmed on Tuesday that Eagling and Repetske had turned in their petitions at 9:58 a.m. The deadline was noon.
Eagling and Repetske emerged from a group of parents who, during the last school year, had asked for more responsiveness from Oconee County Schools on a variety of issues.
Repetske and Eagling rejected the option of running as Democrats or as a Republicans. That decision made it necessary for each of them them to obtain the signatures of voters on a petition to put their names on the ballots.
One of the key leaders of the group of parents was John Phillips, who is in the process of moving out of Oconee County for family reasons.
Leaders of the Democratic Party, without a candidate of their own, stepped in to help Repetske, Eagling and the remaining parents from the original group with the petitions.
The group set up tables near polling places for the May 24 primaries and the June 21 runoffs as well as at the Oconee Farmers Market. They also canvassed neighborhoods.
State law required that Eagling and Repetske submit the completed signatures in one batch, by the deadline of noon on Tuesday.
Eric Gisler, chair of the Oconee County Democratic Party, actually submitted the petitions on Tuesday for Repetske and Eagling, according to Anglin.
Georgia does not have registration by party, and the Republican Party requires any candidate for elective office running as a Republican Party to submit to the local Party an “oath affirming his or her allegiance to the party.”
The simple statement is: “I do swear or affirm my allegiance to the Georgia Republican Party.”
The Oconee County Democratic Party does not require a statement of allegiance.
Parrish was the sole Republican candidate for Post 2.
Hammock, Julie Mauck, and Elliott Rogers filed to run for the open Post 3 on the Board.
Decision To Run As Independent
Repetske is an operations manager at Athens Neurological Associates. He has undergraduate and graduate degrees in accounting and has three children at Colham Ferry Elementary School.
He said in a statement he released during the petition drive that he chose to run as an independent “because I believe that school board positions should be nonpartisan and politics should not play a role in decisions.”
Eagling is an attorney with three children in Colham Ferry Elementary School and a child with special needs in a program at the University of Georgia.
She said in a statement that she released during the drive that she wanted to run as an independent because “I believe our school board’s decisions should be directed by the entirety of the community and not be one political agenda or another.”
Both of the local parties included a non-binding question on the May 24 ballot asking voters if the Board of Education elections should be non-partisan.
The Republican Party labeled the question as written by Democrats and launched a campaign to get voters to vote against nonpartisan elections.
Just less than 90 percent of the Democratic voters called for nonpartisan elections for the Board of Education, and just less than 45 percent of the Republican voters called for nonpartisan elections.
Many more Oconee County voters used the Republican ballot than used the Democratic ballot, and the overall vote in favor of nonpartisan elections was just more than 50 percent of the voters using the ballots of the two parties in May.
Parrish And Hammock
Parrish has served on the Board of Education since 2016 and has been vice chair since 2021.
She is a Senior Financial Advisor at Highland Trust Partners.
Hammock is a Senior Vice President of Pinnacle Bank.
I asked Hammock before the June 21 runoff if “there any criticisms that you can offer of the current Board? If so what are they, and how would you address them?”
Hammock offered several specific criticisms.
“I have concerns about the scope of the new school administration building,” he said, referring to the plans for a $12.8 million New Instructional Support Center planned for construction in 2023.
Hammock also said “Parents can feel lost when it comes to understanding their child's curriculum and understanding what their child is being taught.” He called for more communication with parents to address that problem.
“I support how the current Board and Administration managed the School System from the early days of the Pandemic to today,” Hammock said in his single-sentence response to another question I asked.
Calculation of 1,425
Jennifer Stone, Assistant Director of Elections and Registration, specified in advance of qualifications for the May primary, that anyone who wanted to run as an Independent would be required to have signatures equal to five percent of the number of registered voters–active and inactive–in November of 2018.
The Secretary of State final results for Oconee County in that election list 27,380 active voters.
Based on the final figure of 1,425, that means the total number of active and inactive voters was 28,500.
At present, the current number of active and inactive voters in the county is 32,178, according to an email from Stone on Monday
That means Eagling and Repetske were required to obtain signatures of 4.4 percent of the current list of registered voters,.
Only 29,460 of those voters are active, however, according to Stone. Many of he remaining 2,718 inactive voters are no longer living at the address listed on their voting files.
So Repetske and Eagling were seeking signatures from a minimum of 4.8 percent of the active registered voters in the county.
Director of Elections and Registration Anglin said on Tuesday that her office “will begin the verification process toward the end of the week.”
“I anticipate it may take us a week or so to complete,” she wrote.
“We now have to verify that each person who signed the petition is in fact an Oconee County voter, their signatures matches our files, and give them credit with the state for signing a petition,” she said.
Signing a petition would convert an inactive voter to an active voter.
Anglin said that the totals submitted with the petitions listed 1,684 signatures for Eagling and 1,661 signatures for Repetske.
Separate from the group seeking to get signatures on petitions for Repetske and Eagling, I contacted people with whom I have interacted in the county over the years as I have worked on this blog and asked if they would be willing to sign the petitions.
I also canvassed my own neighborhood. I live in Welbrook Farms off Daniells Bridge Road.
I did this because I am not affiliated with the Democratic or the Republican parties, and am, in that sense, an Independent.
I did vote in the Republican Primary in May, and I vote most often in Republican Primaries.
I told those I contacted I was not supporting either of the candidates and was not committed to voting for them. I was only committed to their goal of getting on the ballot so they have a chance to make their cases to the voters.
I enjoyed the canvassing. I met again some of my neighbors I had not seen in recent years.
And I met many of the newer residents to the neighborhood.
What I Learned
I found great receptivity to the idea that candidates should be able to get on the ballot as Independents.
This receptivity came from some people I know are Republicans and will be unlikely to vote for either of the two candidates in November.
In the end, I gave to Davis, serving as notary public, 111 signatures on petitions I circulated.
I did have 10 people I talked to refuse to sign the petitions.
I did not ask for explanations, but two of them said they were happy with the existing candidates and didn’t want to add other candidates to the ballot.
I had never met these two individuals before, and both thanked me for coming by and asking them to sign.
Two of those who refused to signed said they didn’t know enough about Eagling and Repetske to want to add them to the ballot. I showed them their qualification papers and told them what I knew of the candidates, which is what I have written above.
One of those who did not sign said candidates should be required to run either as a Democrat or a Republican.
I had only one individual who expressed some hostility to my request. That person didn’t offer a reason for not signing the petition.
The two official parties of Georgia are the Democrats and the Republicans.
The Libertarian Party is what is termed a “political organization” in Georgia and is eligible to nominate its candidates through a convention.
Rebecca Anglin, Director of Elections and Registration for Oconee County, said in a July 5 email that the county has “a Libertarian Party that has filed paper work with my office.”
“No one has ever inquired about running as a Libertarian since I have been here,” Anglin said.
The deadline for filing a candidate by the Libertarian Party also was noon on Tuesday.
If Eagling or Repetske had sought to run with some other party label, they would have had to go through the same petition process as they followed to run as Independents.