Frady: County could have shared district voting lawsuit costs with BoE

Fayette County Commission Chairman Herb Frady. Photo/John Munford.

Fayette County Commission Chairman Herb Frady. Photo/John Munford.

Fayette County Commission Chairman Herb Frady has taken exception to the contention of his counterpart at the Fayette County Board of Education, who recently complained about the county’s efforts to fight a federal lawsuit that could drastically change how representatives were elected to both boards.

In an interview Monday, Frady said the BoE never approached them about sharing costs even though they were both defendants in the lawsuit. Instead, the BoE and the Fayette County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which filed the lawsuit, announced a settlement months after the suit was filed. That deal was later voided by the federal court judge presiding over the case because the county opposed the deal as a co-defendant in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in August and the BoE settlement was approved in January on a 3-2 vote to redraw the districts for the five BoE seats and change the voting procedure from at-large to district voting.

Under the current at-large voting scheme, every voter in the county can vote on all five seats. With district voting, voters would be limited to casting ballots for just one of the five posts on the board: the one in which they live.

District voting proponents contend that the process, combined with specially-drawn district maps, would make it easier for a minority candidate to be elected to a seat on the BoE and county commission, neither of which have had a minority elected to office.

Frady, in a news release, said he does not have a problem with having a black person or another minority being on the commission, and he thinks his other commissioners feel the same way.

“District voting causes much animosity among commissioners,” Frady wrote, adding that he also thinks that because he as a commissioner has the capability of spending taxpayer dollars, “I think the taxpayers should have the right to vote for or against me.”

In June, BoE Chairman Leonard Presberg chided the county for “forcing us to use our precious resources — money that should be going into the pockets of teachers rather than the pockets of lawyers — to wage a political battle over the technical interpretation of the Voting Rights Act.”

Frady contends that Presberg and the BoE shouldn’t be blaming the county for its financial crisis.

“Mr. Presberg’s notion that the BOC (Board of Commissioners) is causing them to spend money while they are facing a multi-million dollar shortfall and may have to close schools is ludicrous,” Frady said. “I have seen a few BoE chairmen come and go but you are the first to try to pass the buck for your shortcomings.”

Voting for the BoE-NAACP settlement in January were school board members Presberg, Janet Smola and Terri Smith. Voting no were Marion Key and Bob Todd.

The county commission, however, has challenged the lawsuit and the BoE-NAACP settlement. Attorneys for the county have contended that since the new map would create a district where black residents comprise 46.2 percent of the voting age population, it doesn’t meet a threshold set in similar cases that requires one district to have at least 50 percent of its population to be of voting-age residents who are of a “minority race.”

The NAACP is expected to file an appeal to the U.S. District Court to determine that issue.

The BoE chose to be represented by its regular attorney, Phil Hartley, while the county commission chose to hire an Atlanta law firm that specializes in Voting Rights Act-related lawsuits such as this district voting claim.

The BoE-NAACP settlement also included a requirement for Presberg’s seat to go up for election this November instead of him filling the remaining two years of his term. Presberg was appointed to the BoE seat last year by the other four members of the BoE to fill the seat left vacant by the death of former BoE member Sam Tolbert.

Frady contended that the school system in recent years has misspent money on capital projects, including the $3.1 million purchase of 140 acres on Inman Road near Ga. Highway 92 when it only needed about 40 acres for the school site itself. Frady also cited the underused Rivers Elementary School on Sandy Creek Road and another 60 acres the BoE purchased on Tyrone Road for $1.8 million on land that remains vacant.

Frady said he didn’t blame several existing BoE members for the financial state of the school system. He also suggested that Dr. Jeff Bearden, the school superintendent, would be able to plan and prepare for the future if he is “left alone.”