Move afoot to pull Fayette’s new commission district map

Two Fayette County residents are asking a federal court to vacate the county’s new five-district map used to elect representatives to the county commission.

The attorney for Ali Abdur-Rahman and Aisha Abdur-Rahman claims that commission attorney Scott Bennett asked Peachtree City attorney Rick Lindsey to file a federal lawsuit so the five-district map could be officially adopted, replacing the previous three-district map used for all commission elections.

In a Sept. 10 declaration filed with the court, Bennett says any allegation that he colluded with Lindsey in the matter is “completely untrue.”

“I never asked Mr. Lindsey to sue the county nor did I ever tell anyone that I had asked him to do so,” Bennett wrote in his declaration to the court.

Likewise, Lindsey in a June 6 letter to the Abdur-Rahmans’ attorney, Wayne Kendall, vehemently denies he colluded with Bennett to file the lawsuit on the county’s behalf.

“Contrary to your assertions and apparent belief, Scott Bennett and I did not collude or in any way act improperly in the above-captioned lawsuit or at any other time,” Lindsey wrote.

The commission in February adopted the new five-district map in an effort to evenly distribute the population among five districts, as the previous three-district map in use for several decades resulted in the three districts having vastly different populations as the county grew.

Kendall, who until recently was an attorney of record representing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in its district voting lawsuit against the county commission and the county board of education, contends that Bennett asked Lindsey to file suit in federal court to enforce the new five-district map once it was clear the Georgia legislature would not be able to approve it this year.

“The present case does not present an actual controversy,” Kendall wrote in one of several motions filed in U.S. District Court. “There is only a manufactured controversy which was pre-arranged between Scott Bennett and Richard P. Lindsey, and paid for with taxpayer money.”

As proof of collusion between county attorney Bennett and Lindsey, who is in private practice, Kendall cites portions of depositions taken of Fayette County Commissioners Steve Brown and Robert Horgan. Kendall claims the comments of both men prove that Bennett and Lindsey colluded in an effort to get the five-district map enforced.

Lindsey noted in his letter that the comments from Brown and Horgan about the lawsuit were made even though neither man participated in any of the conversations Lindsey had with Bennett.

“This lawsuit was not ‘manufactured’ but was filed to correct a problem with malapportionment in my county of residence,” Lindsey wrote in his letter to Kendall.

Bennett in his declaration said that he did speak with Lindsey after learning the legislature would not consider the new district map.

“... I mentioned to him that the county had a problem with its malapportioned redistricting plan. Mr. Lindsey then decided to sue the county to remedy the malapportioned districts,” Bennett wrote in his declaration to the court.

The five-district map, approved in February by the commission and later adopted by court order, replaced the previous three-district map. Under the old map, three commission seats were tied to district boundaries while the other two seats were countywide, meaning that any qualified county resident could seek election regardless of where they live.

While the new map changed from three geographical districts to five, it retained the at-large voting process which allows residents to vote on all five commission seats, opposed to a district voting process.

The controversy between at-large and district voting is being played out in a separate federal lawsuit filed by the Abdur-Rahmans, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and several other county residents. That suit seeks to replace at-large voting with district voting on the theory that district voting makes it easier for a minority candidate to be elected to office.

That lawsuit has stalled somewhat because a federal court judge in May denied a motion to enforce district voting for this year’s elections based on the fact that the proposed map for seats on the county board of education did not create a district in which there would be a majority population of voting age minority residents. Instead, the district with the highest voting-age population of minorities only reaches 46.2 percent.