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Fayette Commission OKs new voting districts map; no at-large posts

Although Fayette residents will retain the right to vote on all five county commission seats, there is a significant change tied to the new commission district maps approved by commissioners last week.

The new five-district map would require all commission candidates to seek only the post for the corresponding district in which they live. Currently under its existing three-district map, the commission has two at-large seats that are not tied to a district residency requirement.

The new map was approved by the commission on a 3-1 vote, with Commissioners Lee Hearn, Robert Horgan and Herb Frady in favor and Commissioner Steve Brown voting against; Commissioner Allen McCarty was out of town.

The new map balances the population with about 21,000 residents in each district. The map must be ratified by the Georgia legislature and also the U.S. Department of Justice, but officials plan to have it in place for the elections later this year for commission posts 1, 2 and 3.

Of the five districts, District 5, which stretches across the northern end of the county and dips partly into north Fayetteville, would have the largest minority population at 47.2 percent.

District 1, which includes the rest of Fayetteville and unincorporated area to the east would have a minority population of 31.59 percent.

The other three districts would have less than 10 percent minority population in each.

Several of the 13 people speaking about the two district map proposals at the Feb. 14 commission meeting were critical of getting only five days’ notice about the pending decision.

Officials said two factors affected the delay: an impending deadline for the maps to be submitted to the legislature and the district voting lawsuit filed by the Fayette County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The NAACP wants to force the county commission to replace at-large voting with district voting, which would restrict residents to voting for just one of the five commission seats, on the theory that would make it easier for black residents to elect a candidate to the commission through the creation of a “majority-minority” district.

The new district map approved last week will retain at-large voting, meaning that all Fayette residents will get to vote on all five commission posts. It also means the commission likely is heading for a battle in court over the NAACP complaint.

Of the dozen residents who addressed the commission prior to its vote adopting the five-district map, the most common complaint was a lack of appropriate notice with just a five-day advance notice given to residents.

Commissioner Steve Brown apologized for the necessity to handle the matter in a rush.

“I wish you had more time to look at things,” Brown said. “I wish you had more time to ask the questions and to examine the statistics and to think about the big picture and where the county is going and how some of these things would turn out for the betterment or the detriment, whichever way you want to look at it, of the county 20 years down the road or at least 10 years down the road until the next Census and figure it out. But we’ve got what we’ve got. And I apologize for that.”

When told that there had been no previous public meetings about the creation of the maps, former County Commissioner Grace Caldwell of Tyrone asked “why the public has been left out ... and why all of a sudden we’ve got to do this in three days is what I don’t understand.”

Commissioner Brown referred to the ongoing lawsuit as one of the reasons. Georgia law allows the commission to meet in closed executive session to discuss litigation matters.

Weeks prior to the meeting, The Citizen asked both the county and the NAACP for copies of the various district map proposals relating to the suit, and both agencies declined to provide them, citing attorney-client work product.

Caldwell also chafed at Brown’s idea of making the chairman’s position a seat selected by voters. In doing so, the county could be stuck with a less than ideal chairman for four years straight, Caldwell said, but under the current process residents could at least lobby annually for who they would like to see as commission chair.

Currently the chair is elected each year by majority vote of the five commissioners.

Caldwell said she also assumed that a chairman elected by voters would be a full-time position and a resulting tax increase as well.

Resident Judith Moore, a leader of the Fayette County Democrat Party, urged the board to adopt district voting “and quit fighting the inevitable.”

Resident Barbara Burden asked for the political affiliation of each commissioner, and Commission Chairman Herb Frady replied that all five commissioners ran as Republicans.

“My hope is that we can make some change because we need all parties to be represented in this great county, because our taxpayers, which I am, we all are not Republicans,” Burden said.

After Burden returned to her seat, Frady replied: “We ran as Republicans but we’re all Americans.”

Resident Larry Younginer noted that the five-district map would prepare the county for a future shift to district voting.

“At present, a large segment of Fayette County is not represented by the at-large voting,” Younginer said, saying he favored the five-district map because it could be tweaked to accommodate district voting in the future. A three-district map, proposed by Commissioner Brown, was in Younginer’s opinion “a thinly veiled attempt to maintain the status quo.”



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