Fayette County voters enthusiastically embrace district voting while elected county leaders stubbornly cling to the past. The Fayette County Board of Education wastes nearly $240,000 of taxpayer money on appeal alone. The Board of Commissioners’ mounting legal bills likely to waste double that amount with total cost of trying to cling to at-large voting likely to exceed $1 million, excluding fees owed plaintiffs’ lawyers.
When Fayette County voters took to the polls on Nov. 4, two amazing things happened. First, voter turnout was higher in Fayette County than anywhere else in Georgia; and second, voters in District 5, the majority-black district, made history by electing their candidate of choice, the first-ever black person, to serve on the County Commission.
Voters in District 5 also elected their candidate of choice, a white male, to the School Board. So it is long past time for us to move forward, together, as a county.
The NAACP recently won a Voting Rights Act lawsuit that required Fayette County to conduct its elections for County Commission and School Board under a district-based plan.
Both bodies previously used at-large voting which has been proven to purposely prevent black voters from electing their candidates of choice. The recent elections clearly reflected the strong desire of Fayette County’s voters to move forward and turn the page on at-large voting.
For their part, however, the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education have been extremely fiscally irresponsible by squandering scarce tax dollars and refusing to move this county forward into the future. Both have wasted incredible sums of taxpayer money fighting a losing battle to maintain at-large voting.
Their appeal will be heard before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on Dec. 10, 2014. Though it willfully admitted that its at-large method of electing its members violates the Voting Rights Act, and therefore sought on several occasions to settle this case with plaintiffs, the Board of Education nevertheless opted to appeal this case to the Eleventh Circuit.
The Fayette County NAACP recently learned through an Open Records Act request that, incredibly, the Board of Education has spent nearly $240,000 on the appeal alone in this case, not including money paid by the Board of Education during the district court proceedings.
Before the appeal, the county commissioners had spent more than $300,000 in this litigation. Together, the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education have likely expended more than $1 million taxpayer dollars defending an illegal, biased and outdated method of elections. That figure does not include the amount for the plaintiffs’ legal team, for which taxpayers are also responsible.
John E. Jones
Fayette County NAACP President