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Elections board to Smith: Keep out
Officials at odds with work from warehouse
elections dock doors
Elections board chairman Gary J. Smith has been working out of this warehouse off Piney Grove Road. - photo by Jim Dean
Gary J. Smith has again found himself at the center of a Forsyth County Elections Board meeting.

This time, the chairman of the board and chief voter registrar is under scrutiny for his new work venue, which his board colleagues did not know about and want him to give up.

Fellow board member Brant Meadows said the issue stems from his recent visit to the voter storage building off Piney Grove Road, where voting machines and records are stored.

“I went over there [June 26] because I got a report that Gary’s got him an office over there that wasn’t contemplated,” he said.

To err on the side of caution, Meadows said the board voted 2-1 on Monday for Smith to give up his key card to the facility and use the department’s office for his daily space.

Smith was the dissenting vote. He later said he voted against the measure because he “didn’t think it was proper.”

“Brant has a personal vendetta against me. He’s had it for a long time,” Smith said. “He has continued to exhibit that kind of a characteristic and I think he’s obviously way off base in the way he’s doing things.”

Smith said he didn’t think the board had the power to strip his access to the facility. He is working on an alternate plan that he said he will unveil later this week.

In early June, Smith relinquished his duties overseeing day-to-day functions of the county’s elections and voter registration department. His former assistant, Barbara Luth, took on that role and became supervisor of elections, as approved by county commissioners.

The move came partly in response to the long-running issue over the legality of Smith serving as both chairman and head of the elections department.

Since the switch, the county commission has voted to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the county’s elections department in response to issues raised in a countywide audit.

Made public last month, the internal controls review by Sawyer & Co. of Dawsonville looked at expenditures and revenues in all county departments.

It took exception, however, with consulting agreements between then elections director Smith and outside agencies, Cherokee County and Election Science Institute, an organization that studies elections.

In particular, officials want to know if Smith was paid by those agencies while being paid by the county for the same hours.
Smith has denied the allegations.

The request of federal authorities rekindled previous concerns of Smith’s handling of taxpayer money.

Though it was determined in 2007 that he probably had not done anything illegal, his questionable spending habits resulted in multiple audits prior to the countywide audit, as well as calls for his resignation.

Meadows said the board’s request for Smith to turn in his access card was made to “lift this cloud” floating above Smith and the department.

“We told him considering all the things that are going on, you’ve got your truck backed up to the loading dock, the security cameras are not on, there’s a call for a federal investigation ... out of an abundance of caution, I believe it’s important that we make your access the same as [third board member] Ms. [Janis] Thomas and myself,” Meadows said. “And that’s exactly what we did.”

Smith said he was only using the storage unit to gather information for Luth.

“I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” he said. “I’m going through seven years of records trying to help with getting the transfer of things to Barb.

“Everybody comes in and out of the warehouse. That’s where we keep all of our information. Everybody in our office at one time or another goes down there to work on different things.”

In addition to voting machines and voter registration information, Smith said the facility houses data he’s collected over the years that he’s condensing for Luth.

Since his move, Luth said she works with Smith once or twice a week at the facility.

“We’ll be going over all the electronic files so that I have everything I need to do my job,” she said.

Even as Smith’s assistant, Luth has had a key card to the warehouse. Because staff regularly tests equipment and stores documents, Luth said that’s not uncommon.

Smith said the elections board was not informed of his move to the facility, which he calls Larc.

“The board did not need to know that I was just moving into Larc,” he said. “It wouldn’t have made any difference.

“The commissioners said I was going to be provided with a space. There was no space specifically that was designated for me, and it seemed like it was a good temporary location until we determined what location would be permanent.”

E-mail Jennifer Sami at