Atlantic Judicial Circuit Judge Charles Rose declared Friday a referendum to abolish the Glynn County Police Department is unconstitutional and issued an injunction keeping it off the ballot in November.
The case was transferred to the Atlantic circuit after all five Glynn County Superior Court judges recused themselves to avoid a conflict of interest.
“The county has prevailed, and we felt very confident that we would,” said Glynn County Commission Vice Chairman Bill Brunson.
Either the Georgia Secretary of State or Glynn County Board of Elections could appeal Rose’s ruling, but Friday was the deadline to include items on the Nov. 3 ballot.
Elections and Registration Supervisor Chris Channell said the elections board had no intention of appealing the decision. He also indicated the local elections office would proceed Friday with a ballot proof that did not include the referendum — with the blessing of the Secretary of State’s office.
State legislators in June passed Senate Bill 38, which gave the state the authority to abolish a county police department if the public voted to do so, and Senate Bill 509, which contained the wording of the referendum and placed it on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.
State Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak, and Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, supported the bills in the Georgia Senate and House of Representatives, respectively.
They claimed the action was necessary because the county commission had not shown a commitment to addressing apparent corruption and malfeasance in the police department evidenced by the police’s handling of the Feb. 23 shooting of Ahmaud Arbery and a scandal that led to the dissolution of the Glynn Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team.
County officials condemned the bills very early as unconstitutional, pointing to the statutes in the Georgia Constitution which delegate policing services to the counties and limit state government interference in local matters, known commonly as home rule.
A lawsuit wasn’t filed until late August, after the Glynn County Board of Elections tried to place the referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot at the behest of the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. The Glynn County Commission then took both agencies to court to block the referendum.
Rose apparently found the county’s stance more compelling, ruling both bills unconstitutional and in violation of state laws regarding local acts.