Floyd County Republican Party ads endorsing candidates in the nonpartisan Rome City Commission race weren't meant to signal a politicization of city government, the GOP chair said Tuesday.
"I don't foresee a trend of partisanship. This may be an isolated incident," Andy Garner said. "The point was to let the public know of her affiliation."
Commissioner Wendy Davis was the target of the party's ads that ran in the Rome News-Tribune and aired on WLAQ before the Nov. 7 election.
The lengthy text called her "extremely partisan" and noted that she's a member of the Democratic National Committee and a political consultant "for progressive candidates throughout the state and country." It also asked residents to join the FCGOP in voting for Mayor Jamie Doss, Commissioner Sue Lee and new candidate Randy Quick.
Doss and Quick won two of the three open seats. Davis won the third, with the second-highest number of votes cast in the six-person race, behind Doss.
During the Rome City Commission's meeting Monday, resident Nedra Manners said she was disappointed to see party politics injected into the race. She wanted to register her disapproval, she said, because silence is often interpreted as consent.
"That ad was not OK. ... Most issues aren't about politics, and something like that splits Rome, Georgia," Manners said. "We have a lot of that going on in our national politics, but Rome, Georgia, is better than that."
Doss and Lee said they were unaware the local Republican Party planned to endorse them and the ads came as a surprise. Doss also pointed out that the commission has adopted a code of conduct to make Rome a certified City of Ethics.
"I firmly believe in the true nonpartisan spirit," the mayor said. "If your political affiliation is more important than your commitment to the city of Rome, that could be a conflict of interest."
Davis was not at the commission meeting, due to illness, and could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
However, the Democratic political operative has previously said that she deliberately keeps her professional life separate from her city commission role. The issue has never been raised during her four years in office.
Garner described it differently, saying her work is "the worst-kept secret in town, and we just felt like the voters ought to know." He pointed out that Davis' campaign received significant financial support from prominent Democrats outside the county.
"The three (candidates) we endorsed — we felt like they aligned most closely with our conservative values ... We felt like we could endorse who we wanted to, like groups do all the time," Garner added.
Quick, who will start his first term in January, said Tuesday that he was not involved in the FCGOP's decision to run the ads. He did know they would run, he said, because as a co-owner of WLAQ he was aware that Garner had recorded an ad and bought time on the station's programming.
He also said the Floyd County Democratic Party had endorsed candidates in the 2012 and 2016 county commission elections, "so (the station) didn't see anything wrong with that." Unlike the city commission, the Floyd County Commission seats are partisan and candidates qualify as Republicans or Democrats.
Quick followed Doss and Lee in saying an endorsement by the local Republican Party would not affect his service on the board.
"The object of this city commission is to manage the affairs of the city and work with the city manager effectively," he said. "I didn't go into this with the idea of advancing a political position; my job is to make this town a better place."
Also on Monday, the City Commission approved a special use permit to allow Dean Plaza, at 1401 Dean St., to be remodeled to house indoor mini-warehouses.
The board also accepted the draft 2018 budgets, with plans for a public hearing on Dec. 11 and adoption on Dec. 18. The documents can be viewed at City Hall, 601 Broad St., or online at romefloyd.com.