Documents raise questions about how Sam Westmoreland won job as election chief

by: Aaron Diamant Updated:

Documents show in 2011, when the county's Department of Registration and Elections top job came open, a panel of outside experts came up with a list of candidates, whom members felt were qualified to fill it.

ATLANTA - Channel 2 Action News is digging into how Fulton County's embattled former elections chief, Sam Westmoreland, got the job.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant obtained documents that now have one top county leader convinced it never should have happened.

Those documents show in 2011, when the county's Department of Registration and Elections top job came open, a panel of outside experts came up with a list of candidates, whom members felt were qualified to fill it.

Panelists ranked the list of candidates from most to least. However, there's a second list that's causing plenty of controversy.

In September, Westmoreland, who got the job just seven months earlier, resigned amid scandal.

"I want to apologize to this board," Westmoreland told the Fulton County Board of Commissioners.

That apology was fallout from a problem-plagued July primary election and Westmoreland's recent stint in jail over a couple of DUI arrests.

It's all drama that Fulton County Board Chairman John Eaves is now convinced didn't have to happen.

"I think we could have potentially avoided a lot of this mess if we had selected a more capable, qualified person," Eaves told Diamant on Friday.

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The documents show the independent panel tasked to find qualified director candidates ranked Westmoreland, already the department's interim director, near the bottom -- just seventh out of the nine names on the list.

"For someone to be so low and to rise up, really begs some questions to be asked," Eaves said.

After the panel's ranked list came out, county records show election board member William Riley put the brakes on the hiring process over political concerns and called an emergency meeting. That led board members to interview the candidates again and ultimately ranked Westmoreland No. 1.

"If one person had enough power, or clout, or presence, to manipulate the process, that person needs to be 'outed,' and that person needs to be called into question and held accountable," Eaves said.

Channel 2 is still trying to determine what criteria the two groups used to come up with such different rankings.

Neither Riley nor Westmoreland returned Diamant's calls Friday, but election board chairman Roderick Edmond told Diamant by phone the board wanted to make its own decision.



You can read more about this investigation in Sunday's edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. There you will find out about false statements found on Westmoreland's resume and application, the hiring plan the board disregarded in the process and the safety check the board overlooked in Westmoreland's hearing.