NAACP raps Fayette for lawsuit defense
The Fayette County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is hoping that public pressure might convince the Fayette County Commission to settle the district voting lawsuit the NAACP filed last year against the commission and the Fayette County Board of Education.
NAACP officials allege that the county has paid more than $227,000 to an Atlanta law firm defending the county in the case.
“With mounting legal fees approaching a quarter of a million dollars, Fayette County commissioners seem to have no limit on the amount of the citizens’ tax dollars they are willing to spend trying to preserve an outdated and illegal at-large voting system,” said Fayette NAACP President John E. Jones in a news release issued Monday.
“... We urge concerned citizens to closely examine how their tax dollars are being spent to maintain discriminatory voting practices by attending county commission meetings and contacting commissioners to demand an end to reckless out of control spending on legal fees,” Jones said.
At stake in the lawsuit is the at-large voting format, which currently allows all county voters to weigh in on all five posts for the county commission and board of education.
The NAACP wants the county to switch to a district voting format, which would restrict voters to casting ballots for only one of the five seats on both governing bodies. The benefit of district voting, according to the NAACP, is that minority residents in Fayette County would have a far greater chance of electing a minority to office.
But for a district voting scheme to be effective will also require the adoption of a district map that includes a district in which there is a majority concentration of voting-age minorities.
The NAACP initiated the lawsuit in August 2011 but its case may be on the ropes somewhat after a hearing in late May in which a federal court judge declined to force a switch to district voting for this year’s election cycle. In that hearing, Judge Timothy C. Batten Sr. ruled that a new district map proposed to settle the lawsuit between the NAACP and the school board did not meet a legal requirement established in case law to create a majority-minority district that has a black voting age population of at least 50 percent plus one voter.
The proposed map for the BoE settlement had a black voting age population of 46.2 percent. That district stretched from Tyrone to parts of Fayetteville, and both sides are arguing over whether the proposed map was racially gerrymandered.
While the board of education has voted to settle the lawsuit by allowing district voting and instituting a new district map, the settlement was denied by the court after the county commission objected to it.
The NAACP contends that district voting, combined with a specially-drawn majority-minority district, is necessary to allow a minority to be elected to the county commission and the board of education.
“Fayette County has never had a minority person sit on either the Board of Commissioners or the School Board in the 191 years of (their) existence,” according to the NAACP press release. “... Even though the minority population in Fayette County has doubled over the last decade to over 20 percent of the total population, and even though county commissioners have admitted that voting patterns in Fayette County are racially polarized they have refused to voluntarily switch to a district based method of electing county commissioners and school board members.”
The NAACP notes that each county surrounding Fayette utilizes district voting including Coweta, Meriwether, Spalding, Henry, Clayton and Fulton counties.
Despite criticizing the county for its spending of legal fees in the case, the NAACP is not volunteering to end those legal fees by dropping the lawsuit. Nor has the NAACP revealed how much it has spent in attorney’s fees so far in the case.
The NAACP has a vested interest in keeping the costs of the lawsuit down, as the prevailing party in the lawsuit has the right to seek reimbursement of attorney’s fees. If for some reason the county wins the lawsuit, it could file a motion seeking reimbursement from the NAACP.