End the spending, settle the lawsuit

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Change is afoot in Fayette County. Last year, the Fayette Visioning Plan reported that Fayette County “is becoming more racially diverse” and envisioned “a place where all types of people can find a home,” and where “[r]acial and ethnic diversity will be celebrated.”

To that end, the Plan recommended that Fayette County “proactively develop new leaders across all generations and ethnicities.” Since then, and for two years in a row, in 2014 and 2015, residents elected black candidates to the Board of Commissioners in district-based elections.

These outcomes indeed reflect pro-action. For the past two decades, my constituents have been fighting — now in court — for a fair manner of election for all future Board of Commissioner and Board of Education elections in Fayette County. District-based voting methods, simply put, provide all voters with the equal opportunity to elect the candidates of their choice.

Yet, for the past several years, Fayette County has put up a losing fight, and, in so doing, spent over $1.2 million taxpayer dollars to defend the at-large method of election that resulted in no black person ever serving as a commissioner before 2014.

The county has held onto at-large voting, even after a federal district judge, appointed by a Republican president, already considered the evidence (twice) and ruled that plaintiffs have a “substantial likelihood” of winning on their Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act claim that at-large voting discriminates against black voters who are a minority in Fayette County.

That this fight wears on is not only a burden to its residents, but also an impediment to the economic progress that Fayette desperately needs.

[Earlier this month], business leaders publicly announced their view that “it is now time to bring an end to this divisive and expensive issue,” and the Chamber of Commerce also encouraged settlement because the lawsuit places a “negative light regionally and nationally” on Fayette.

The county’s decision to continue the litigation detracts from its commitment in its Visioning Plan to “becoming more racially diverse” and fostering “a growing economy and jobs that align with residents’ skills.” Black residents and new immigrants to the county wield enormous consumer power and contribute to the formation and growth of small businesses, which is vital to Fayette’s success.

The county’s position in this lawsuit also blunts the county’s plan to welcome and create new engagement opportunities for all residents, as it discourages businesses from setting up shop in Fayette County.

The total litigation costs (including for all parties to go to trial and for any fee awarded to the plaintiffs for more than four years of litigation) could be more than $2 million and will only delay the inevitable. An expert for defendants admitted that the plaintiffs’ Voting Rights Act claim is “wham-bam” after the 2020 Census.

I hope that you will join me in urging the county to settle this litigation today.

Virgil Fludd
State Representative, District 64
Tyrone, Ga.