Judge delays Fayette commission qualifying

Citizens hoping to run for one of the three seats up for grabs on the Fayette County Commission in this year's election will have to cool their heels for one more week.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy S. Batten issued an order late Tuesday afternoon delaying qualifying until May 30 through June 1. The county sought the order in the hopes that the U.S. Justice Department will have signed off on the new map by this time next week.

Had the county allowed qualifying to be held as scheduled, it created the possibility that a legal challenge could be filed since the five-district map adopted by the commission and approved by Batten had not yet been approved by the Justice Department, county officials said.

The seats up for election this year are for posts 1, 2 and 3, currently occupied by Robert Horgan, Herb Frady and Lee Hearn.

The new five-district map replaced the old three-district map, moving at-large commissioners Steve Brown and Allen McCarty into their own geographic districts; it did, however, retain the at-large voting scheme that allows county residents to vote on all county commission posts. The new map was approved by the commission in February and submitted to the Georgia legislature for consideration, but it was not brought up for a vote prior to the end of the legislative session.

As it turned out, that only temporarily crippled the new map, as Peachtree City resident and attorney Rick Lindsey filed a federal lawsuit that resulted in the map gaining Judge Batten's approval. Lindsey had argued that the population of the previous three districts had become so out-of-whack that it ruined the principle of "one man, one vote."

When the commission unveiled the map in February shortly before it met in a special called meeting on Valentine's Day to approve it, several minority residents said they wanted the commission to wait until the pending district voting lawsuit filed by the Fayette County and national branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People could be settled. That lawsuit remains pending despite an effort to settle a portion of the dispute between the NAACP and the Fayette County Board of Education, who have jointly agreed to implement district voting in a pending consent decree.

The county commission has challenged that effort, claiming that the board of education does not have the power to change how board of education members are selected by voters; that power, the county contends, rests solely with the Georgia legislature.