Election commission chair resigns minutes before board votes her out

Published: Jul. 23, 2021 at 3:32 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 23, 2021 at 10:33 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Commissioner Yvonne Horton refused to read the text.

Minutes before the Hinds County Election Commission held a special meeting Friday afternoon to remove her as chair, Toni Johnson sent a text to commissioners saying she was stepping down.

Commissioners, who were unaware of her decision and unwilling to find out, went ahead with the meeting anyway and voted Johnson out on a 4-0 vote.

Johnson will remain in place as the District 2 commissioner, but will no longer chair meetings and no longer will be responsible for signing off on invoices.

“In light of the recent accusations and public witch hunt by this office, I’m stepping down as chairman only, effective now,” she wrote in a statement.

Johnson, who was absent from Friday’s meeting, will be replaced by Jermal Clark, the commission’s current vice-chair.

The vote comes a day after a Thursday special meeting where District 2 Supervisor David Archie brought up several questionable expenditures approved by Johnson, including two payments of $4,200 for training luncheons for the commission.

Supervisor David Archie questions expenditures at a recent election commission meeting.
Supervisor David Archie questions expenditures at a recent election commission meeting.(WLBT)

Commissioners did not remember attending a training session, while Johnson said the line item was for multiple training luncheons.

“My priority is to protect my constituents in District 1 and Hinds County,” Commissioner Kidada Brown said. “I do not agree with the misuse of funds that are allocated to educate and encourage voters and prospective voters and for training for the election commission.”

It was unclear where the funds that Johnson is alleged to have misspent came from. Some say they were related to COVID-19 relief dollars, others say the monies were from the commission’s general fund budget.

District 5 Commissioner Shirley Varnado said she was sending a letter requesting an audit of commission expenses.

Varnado said she was compelled to vote out Johnson, in part, because of training she received at state and national conventions held earlier this year.

“We had a class on ethics, where they said if you something is not going right and you don’t say anything, you’re just as guilty as the one who is doing it,” she said. “We won on our position to do the right thing.”

Following the vote Friday afternoon, Jermal Clark said it will be business as usual for the board, which is put in place to oversee elections in the county.

He had not spoken to Johnson since the Thursday meeting where accusations were levied.

Thursday, the commission voted to hold a special meeting on August 5 to address Archie’s concerns.

He said the Friday meeting was called after the commission received additional information regarding expenditures related to Johnson.

“I can’t go into specifics, except that it was more information provided by official sources,” he said.

He would not say what official sources he was referring to. Horton told reporters to go to the Hinds County Chancery Clerk’s Office to seek the information out.

A WLBT reporter visited the chancery clerk Friday after the meeting.

Clark said the August 5 meeting will still go on as scheduled.

“That’s what we told the public we were going to do and we’re going to do it,” he said.

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