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Voting rights debate comes to Lake Country

March 26, 2021 - 00:00
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Citizens speak out against state rep who is an attorney for city, counties

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Members of the Greene County Democratic Party have voiced objection to the city of Greensboro’s relationship with attorney Barry Fleming, a Republican state representative who has sponsored a controversial voting-rights bill.

Democrats spoke during an open forum at the Greensboro City Council meeting on March 15, criticizing the Council for keeping Fleming’s law firm, Fleming and Nelson, LLP of Augusta, on retainer even as Fleming pushes HB 531, a sweeping voting law bill critics have characterized as voter suppression. .

Local attorney Katrina Breeding, who said she was speaking as an independent citizen and not a representative of the Greene County Democratic Party, was one of two women who spoke up in objection to the county supporting the law firm.

“This past Friday, I received a phone call from a friend from Taliaferro County, who received a phone call from her sister who lives in Connecticut,” Breeding said at the meeting. “And she asked me, ‘Is it true that the Barry Fleming law firm represents Taliaferro County?’ I said, ‘No, no, he represents Hancock County, he doesn’t represent Taliaferro.’ And I didn’t think anything else about it. Then the following day, I received a lot of emails from Morgan County, Putnam County and Greene County, inquiring that the city council of Greensboro has Barry Fleming on retainer.”

Breeding said that after so many emails, she confirmed that Fleming does in fact represent Greensboro.

“I thought surely the council doesn’t know who this man is,” Breeding said. “Do they know that his bill wants to reduce the time to ask for absentee voting? Do they know that in his bill, he wants additional requirements for voting on the ballot? You’d need to provide copies of your drivers’ license and other I.D. Does he know that he is restricting private organizations from financial contributions to support the right to vote?”

Breeding went on to speak about some of the details that are proposed in HB 531, saying that it will shorten weekend voting and limit absentee ballot drop boxes, among other things.

“What’s important to me is that this body houses him and has him under retainer,” Breeding said. “He has told you what he is. When people tell you who they are, do you want someone with this spirit of exclusion to represent you anywhere?”

Breeding then produced a jar full of jelly beans and passed it out around to the different members.

“Do you know that there was a time that in order for Black folks to vote, that they had to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar correctly?” she said. “You think it won’t go back there? If you don’t protect the right to vote, if you don’t demand that the right is not diminished; you all will be spared, and me too, trying to count jelly beans in order to vote.”

Fleming recently lost his position as county attorney in Hancock County following a protest. The Hancock County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to ask for his resignation, which they soon received.

"Hancock County is a great place,” Fleming told 11Alive News on March 11. “There’s a great board of commissioners there

“They’re good people. If I can ever do anything in the future to help them I’ll be happy to.”

Fleming remains the attorney for Putnam County, though some residents there are also trying to change that. Four people spoke up at the Putnam County Board of Commissioners meeting on March 16 to call for an investigation into Fleming’s dual roles.

“As a Putnam County resident, I would like to voice my opposition to the continued appointment of Barry Fleming as the county attorney for Putnam,” Eatonton resident Karen Henry-Garrett said at the meeting. “Mr. Fleming’s work for the county should be a nonpartisan role but he is currently working to overturn voting rights for African-Americans and people of color in his legislative role. I do not have any confidence that he will act in the best interests of all Putnam County residents. He has made a choice that cannot be seen as impartial and will not only have an impact financially on this county but will have a severe impact on voting for the residents here.”

Lake Oconee News and The Eatonton Messenger reached out to Fleming but he was unavailable for comment.

Fleming also serves as the attorney for the cities of Harlem, Washington and Lincolnton and Burke and Glascock counties.