New Fulton County vice chairman highlights Democrat-Republican divide

Two years ago, the Democrat-controlled Fulton County Commission elected Republican Liz Hausmann its vice chairman, a show of bipartisanship meant to signal a new direction for the board.

This year, board members elected a Democrat, but say the willingness to collaborate is still there.

Commissioners elected Democrat Joan Garner as the county’s new vice chairman Wednesday, replacing north Fulton’s Hausmann.

When Hausmann was unanimously elected to the largely symbolic position in 2015, it was seen as a change in tone for the commission, which has long been split by geography, party and race.

Garner’s nomination was supported by the four Democrats on the seven-person board. Hausmann was again nominated for the post by Lee Morris, a fellow Republican.

Hausmann abstained from the vote for Garner, calling her a friend. But, she said, “I think it’s important that we continue the bipartisan leadership.”

“I feel strongly that progress we have made is due in large measure to these bipartisan efforts,” Hausmann said. “I also feel strongly that this is not the right time to change that momentum.”

Fulton County Chairman John Eaves, who originally nominated Hausmann for the role in 2015 and who nominated Garner this year, said he is excited “for this mantle of leadership to be passed” to Garner. He called her open-minded, and said she was willing to work with all the county commissioners.

Hausmann “brought great leadership to the board,” Eaves said, and offered a lot of substance to the county’s discussions.

“At the time, it was designed to be a symbolic gesture to demonstrate to the public we were going to be bipartisan and we were going to be a unified body,” Eaves said of Hausmann’s leadership role.

The bet has paid off. Former critics have recently praised the county commission for the change in tone.

“The commission and the municipalities were about as frosty as you could get, for decades, ” Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said previously. “The distrust which has dominated Fulton County politics is melting away.”

Hausmann said it had been “a busy two years” as the county worked to improve management and morale. The improved relationships with cities and lawmakers can be fragile, she said, but they continue to grow stronger.

“The call for the creation of Milton County has subsided as it is apparent that issues that have divided us were being addressed,” she said. “Electing a north Fulton Republican as vice chairman two years ago sends a strong message that a new strategy was in place and that, indeed, good faith efforts to work together was in place.”

Commissioner Marvin Arrington, a Democrat, told Hausmann that she would continue to be needed “to reach across party lines.” Garner, for her part, said she pledged to give the role “my best shot.”

“I think we have been very successful working in a bipartisan way the past few years, and I certainly pledge to continue to do that,” she said.

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