Commission needs its fifth member


Now that two heartbreaking and highly emotional weeks have gone by since Pota Coston’s passing, another aspect of her influence should be addressed.

For the past six months, she was the swing vote on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners. Now the county is left with a four-man group that is most definitely split.

We have already seen two glaring examples of that. During the June 25 meeting the week before Coston’s death, in her absence the board needed three tries to pass a new budget, the first two votes resulting in a 2-2 deadlock.

That same result was achieved July 9 after 90 minutes of the dreaded tunnel-roundabout debate. All of these votes had David Barlow and Charles Oddo on one side, Steve Brown and Randy Ognio on the other.

Let me say up front that, in the year I’ve been observing this board, all four of these men have been absolute gentlemen and professionals in my dealings with them. To my knowledge, none of them is particularly upset at anything I’ve written during that time.

Having said that, I don’t believe any of them would dispute the notion that at times they act as though they don’t like each other very much.

I won’t go into nauseating detail here, but Coston’s influence began on Day One when she cast the third vote to unseat Brown as the board’s chairman. The gavel was passed to Oddo, whose contrast in style with Brown was magnified as it seemed to take several meetings for him to get his feet under him in his new leadership role.

Then there was the night he gaveled down and yelled at Brown during one of the former chairman’s lengthy orations (one law enforcement officer jokingly compared the scene to a domestic dispute), followed by Oddo and Barlow objecting in print to one of Brown’s media appearances, which he pointed out were his First Amendment right. It’s no secret that Barlow and Brown haven’t exactly gotten along lately.

There is nothing inherently wrong with that. You can work within a group as professionals without being BFFs. But if the next several months produce little more than repeated motions resulting in tie votes, the county’s business will suffer.

That’s why this special election needs to happen on schedule. County Attorney Dennis Davenport explained the law succinctly and thoroughly last week at the Board of Elections meeting, which is why at-large voting using the 2012 map for District 5 is the way to go.

If those who oppose that system want to change it, they should introduce local legislation to do so, but no one should try to stop or delay this election using the courts.

As a practical matter, neither the map nor the voting system will prevent a black candidate from being elected. History has shown that when an election is held in a month other than November with only one issue or candidate on the ballot, 10-15 percent turnout is exceptional.

If black voters go to the polls, they will elect a black commissioner. It’s that simple. (Well, maybe not THAT simple. If the only black candidate is a conservative Republican … the jury is still out on that one, pardon the pun.)

Some good candidates will qualify next month for this race. Fayette County has too many outstanding public-minded people of all races for that not to happen. The sooner the voters seat one of them on the dais with the other four, the better off all citizens of Fayette will be.

[Monroe Roark is a free-lance journalist who currently covers the Fayette County Board of Commissioners for The Citizen.]