Fayette undecided on appeal of district voting loss
The Fayette County Commission has decided to wait a short time before making a decision on whether to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that will force the use of district voting for all future elections for both the county commission and the county board of education.
The commission met Thursday for more than an hour with the specialized law firm it had engaged to handle the litigation filed by the Fayette County and national branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People along with several local black residents.
There was so much information shared during the meeting that the commission thought it necessary to take time to digest it, ask any necessary questions of the attorneys and then make a decision at a future meeting. Because the matter involves a pending lawsuit, the commission is allowed to meet in closed session to discuss the lawsuit without the public being present.
The Fayette County Board of Education is slated to meet June 11 at 1 p.m. with its attorney to discuss the order, according to a statement from the school system.
“The board will review all options and decide on the best plan of action to submit to Judge Batten by his deadline of June 25,” the statement said.
The NAACP lawsuit complained that the current countywide at-large electoral process automatically precluded a black candidate from being elected to office due to racially-polarized voting patterns in the county. Despite a handful of black candidates seeking election in the past 10 or more years, none had won the majority of votes needed countywide to win office.
However, one black candidate in recent times has won election to a countywide post as one of four magistrate judges. Charles R. Floyd served as chief magistrate until his untimely death several years ago.
The solution proffered by the NAACP is to throw out at-large voting in favor of district voting. The result would be that all residents would no longer be able to vote for all five seats on the county commission and board of education; instead they would be allowed only one vote.
It also means that those voters would be unable to either sign a recall petition or vote to recall any elected official on either governing body except for the one whose district they live in.
A number of citizens put the heat on the commission Thursday night, urging them to not pursue an appeal of the judge’s ruling from last week, which came by way of summary judgment instead of proceeding to trial.
U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Batten’s order included an edict that all parties present proposed district voting maps for him to consider.
Resident Dawn Oparah was one of the many voices asking the commission to drop its defense of the district voting lawsuit.
“I urge you strongly to not appeal,” Oparah said, adding there is no guarantee the decision would be overturned by a higher court. “Don’t invest any more taxpayer money.”
Oparah urged the commission to use its time and energy to make sure that the voices of all citizens could be heard in its elected government.
State Rep. Virgil Fludd, D-Tyrone, said the plaintiffs, in this case the individual residents and the NAACP, have prevailed in similar appeal cases.
“This case is no different. I demand that you stop wasting my money and stop spending taxpayer dollars and be prudent, as your prescribed governing principles with public resources and accept the ruling of Judge Batten,” Fludd said.
Local resident Wayne Kendall, who for a time served as an attorney on the district voting case, said district voting will allow black residents to say they can be proud of the commission “because they look like they represent me.”
Kendall urged the commission to drop a possible appeal and “get on the right side of history.” He also added that he was so pleasantly surprised about the judge’s verdict that he “may have to become a Republican.”
State Rep. Ronnie Mabra took off his name badge as he addressed the commission, saying his comments were his only and he was not there on behalf of constituents. An attorney in private practice, Mabra argued that most of the judge’s reasoning in the order is sound.
The order from Judge Batten refers to the 2006 election for the County Commission in which Rod Mack, a black man running as a Democrat, “was the clear choice of African-American voters, securing 99 percent of their votes,” though the race was won by Jack Smith, a white candidate.
The order also cites a five-candidate race in 2006 for a seat on the commission that was won by white businessman Robert Horgan, whom the order referred to as “a mechanic” over Charles Rousseau, who was “the preferred candidate by African-American voters having received 29.3 percent of the African-American vote.” The order noted that Rousseau received only two percent support from non-African-American voters.