NAACP, commissioner Brown at odds over district voting

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John E. Jones, President of the Fayette County NAACP, addressed the commission at Thursday’s meeting.

The ongoing legal battle between the NAACP and Fayette County Board of Commissioners again became a central topic at Thursday’s commission meeting. Fayette County NAACP President John E. Jones urged the commission to drop its defense of the suit while commissioner Steve Brown accused the NAACP and other district voting supporters of making no efforts to negotiate with the county before filing a lawsuit.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Jones addressed the commission after another resident gave a lengthy argument for the county to continue its ongoing defense against the lawsuit and for the principle of at-large voting.

That resident said the NAACP’s suit was “insulting” to Fayette County residents for insinuating they are racist. He said that poor voter turnout among eligible black voters in prior elections had been the primary reason their preferred candidates had not succeeded.

He also argued that the current expenditure on the lawsuit, between the commission and Board of Education, amounted to less than 1-percent of their combined budgets or less than $2.00 per individual in the county, going on to ask the commissioners “What’s your character worth? What are you willing to sell it for?”

Jones then spoke on behalf of the NAACP’s case.

“I refer to myself as a colored, negro, black, African-American. I claim all those names. And the reason I do is that each name has a reason that it was given. It was a phase that my people went through,” Jones said. “Now a lot of you are white, you’ve always been white, or caucasian. But we have been through a lot. When I came to this county and I saw that there was no diversity in government, I said that’s got to change.”

Jones went on to say that in the end he expects the courts to decide in favor of district voting.

“This county is spending money, making lawyers richer. And, if you want to blame me for that, go ahead. But you know what, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. If you want to keep litigating, keep litigating. If you want to keep spending money, keep spending money. But in the end, justice will prevail,” Jones said. He went on to ask the commission ” to drop that appeal because in the end, just like all the surrounding counties and many of the counties in Georgia, district voting prevailed.”

Commissioner Steve Brown fired back later during commissioner comments [see page 15 for Brown’s letter to the editor on the topic], saying the supporters of district voting had never even come to the county to discuss or negotiate possible solutions.

“You have to remember we did not file the lawsuit, we are the defendants,” Brown said. “The decision to litigate was not the county’s decision.”

He said he believed he would have been “the most approachable representative” in the county for such a discussion, but none was forthcoming.

“I had a 10 year history with the NAACP, as a member, in a mixed-race family. You would think I would have been the most approachable representative to come see, and there was no discussion,” Brown said.

He also noted an “ongoing e-mail exchange with one of the plaintiffs” in the case in which he’d reminded him that “no one came to the commission.”

He later chastised Dan Lowry, one of the ten Fayette County locals named as plaintiffs in the case, for putting in writing that the NAACP lawsuit is “not about electing black candidates, it’s about electing democrats.”

“My suggestion would be tell him to just stop,” Brown said of Lowry’s public commentaries.

Brown appeared to be referring to Lowry’s letter to the editor from March, 2014 in which he chided the news media for misinterpreting the purpose of the NAACP suit.

“I am writing to debunk the recent article … in the Atlanta Journal Constitution regarding district voting in Fayette County. The article … and articles written in The Citizen newspaper have portrayed district voting as being about getting blacks elected to public office in Fayette County. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Lowry wrote. “The lawsuit brought by plaintiffs and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) was not about getting African-Americans elected to office. It was about getting people elected to office, regardless of their race or ethnicity, who will represent the interests of the people who live in District 5.”

Alice Jones, a self described local community activist who also spoke Thursday urging the commission to drop its defense of the suit, sent Fayette Newspapers a recent e-mail exchange between Lowry and Brown as well as an e-mail sent by Brown in February, 2008 in which he expressed support for the concept of district voting.

The 2008 e-mail, prior to Brown having a seat on the commission, referenced a county commission meeting that Thursday, Feb. 28 in which District Voting was scheduled to be discussed.

Lowry referenced the meeting again this February in his exchange with Brown, after Brown had e-mailed that “the real pity was the NAACP not coming to the Board of Commissioners first BEFORE filing a lawsuit.”

Lowry responded: “With regard to the lawsuit, you must have selective amnesia.  Long before the NAACP got involved in the effort to get district voting, several of us had gone before the commission asking for district voting. They included me, Virgil Fludd, Alice Jones, Walter Harris and others. You were then either a Peachtree City councilman or mayor. If memory serves me right, you were IN FAVOR of it then. You evidently changed your position AFTER you became a commissioner. The fight for a voting change in Fayette County has been going on for years and you know it.”

The 2008 e-mail sent by Brown indicated he had a conflict for the meeting that Thursday but had put his thoughts “in the newspaper.”

Brown said in the email: “As I stated in my letter in the newspaper, one of the core principles of the conservative movement is the notion of bringing government closer to the people. Obviously, district voting is perfectly in line with that principle. This should be the foremost argument in a county like Fayette,” referring to what would be the most convincing case to make for district voting before the commission. He also criticized arguments being made for at-large voting, saying they made “no sense.”

Brown also said in his recent e-mail exchange with Lowry, and in his letter to the editor this week, that the NAACP had thrown a proposed compromise back “in the face” of the commission, which he said in his e-mail was because the NAACP “had gotten the greedy Federal Judge to rule on the FCBOE based on inaccurate if not total false information which was later reversed.”

Brown pressed the point in his letter.

“Let it be known three commissioners from the former Board of Commissioners offered the NAACP a district voting proposal and it was thrown back into the commissioners’ faces. The show of arrogance from the plaintiffs lead to their losing a previous settlement with the Board of Education,” he wrote.

Brown also went after Peachtree City Council Member Kim Learnard for her recent letter to the editor asking the county and Board of Education to back out of the case. He said Learnard’s remarks were “disingenuous.”

Brown also suggested that NAACP attorneys should be investigated for the possibility of “fee gouging,” as their legal fees had been almost double the county’s fees.

The most recent figures from late 2014 showed the county commission had paid $434,155 thus far to Stickland, Brockington, and Lewis, LLP. By the same time, the board of education had paid $308,857 on the case, primarily to Parks, Chesin and Walbert which was hired as “special counsel” to handle the case.

Combining those totals, county taxpayers had spent $743,012 as of December, 2014.

NAACP court filings from April 28, 2014 indicated they had spent $787,882.

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About

Josh Akeman is the managing editor of the Fayette County News, Today in Peachtree City, and East Coweta Journal. He is a graduate of Fayette County High School and the University of Georgia.


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