Reshuffling the Fulton County Board of Commissioners

Moderated by Rick Badie

Three white commission districts. Three black. That’s what a redistricting proposal, proffered by a legislative delegation, effectively would create for the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. Today, a supporter of the proposal says it ensures equal representation for north Fulton. But the two commissioners who would wind up in the same district deem the reshuffling an abuse of political power. Read all three essays, then post your comments.

Politics and power have been abused

By William “Bill” Edwards

Power and politics go together like hand and glove. While responsible leaders balance power with justice, fairness and ethics, others use politics and power like blunt weapons to strike out at their opponents.

In Fulton County, a political power shift occurred in our General Assembly delegation. Last November, 64 percent of Fulton County residents voted for a Democratic president. Voters have also supported Democrats for countywide races in recent years. Nonetheless, the Fulton County General Assembly delegation is now majority Republican for the first time in history.

North Fulton Republican legislators have chosen to abandon their party’s stated commitment to local control. Instead of seeking consensus, they seek to divide. Instead of being policymakers, they are playing personality-driven politics. Efforts to form Milton County have failed. Now they are using economic strangulation and gerrymandering to take their toll on our county.

There are constant claims of “dysfunctional” politics in Fulton County. But the facts do not support this notion. Instead, they point to rampant abuse of politics and power by state legislators.

In 2011, counties across Georgia submitted redistricting maps for state approval. Why was Fulton’s map not approved? Instead, lawmakers have chosen to make their own map, reducing the number of at-large commissioners and increasing north Fulton representation. Instead of each citizen in the county voting in three commission races, they will now only have two. The state proposed map includes a contorted south Fulton district with lines carefully drawn to place my colleague, Emma I. Darnell, and me in the same geographic district.

The explanation? Politics and power.

Bills have been introduced to harm us financially. Other Georgia counties have a homestead exemption of $15,000. State lawmakers want to increase Fulton County’s homestead exemption from the current $30,000 to $60,000, resulting in an annual revenue loss of $48 million. Despite our own budget reductions of $60 million since 2008, the state seeks to decimate funding and services. Why? Politics and power.

Fulton is the only metro Atlanta county that has not raised its millage rate in the past five years. Our millage rate has remained the same since 2007, and we have not increased it since the 1990s. Why does the state seek to cap our millage rate? Politics and power.

Several groups should join with us in this fight. Fulton County senior citizens, arts groups, library patrons, nonprofits, HIV patients and anyone who has benefited from a Fulton County service should take note. These programs are at risk.

Sister counties across Georgia should take note: If they come for us, they may come for you, too. Local governments should speak out for our ability to deliver services to our constituents without unnecessary and unwanted interference from the state.

William “Bill” Edwards” represents District 7 on the Fulton County Commission.

1 man, 1 vote except in Fulton County

By Michael Fitzgerald

One man. One vote.

It is a simple premise that stands as a cornerstone of freedom and the representative republic of these United States. It depicts the notion that every man and woman’s vote carries the same value as the other. It is one of the core freedoms that millions of American soldiers have fought for and many have died for. It is what Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life to ensure.

Equal representation. One man. One vote.

However, in Fulton County, the one man/one vote concept does not apply. It only takes simple math and objective observation to prove Fulton, in its current form of government, does not adhere to this basic American tenant.

Do the math: According to the 2010 Census, Fulton has a population of approximately 921,000. In what is generally termed “north Fulton County,” due to growth trends, the population approaches 400,000. One need only observe current district commission boundaries to determine only one of the seven district commission seats represents just under half of the county’s population. District 3’s voting strength is diluted compared to any other district in Fulton.

Also worth noting is the location of the homes of the county commissioners. Five of the seven commissioners live in what is generally considered Atlanta and south Fulton. An additional commissioner, Tom Lowe, lives just outside the Atlanta city limits.

Unequivocally, this gives Atlanta and south Fulton lopsided and disproportionate clout on the Board of Commissioners that their population simply does not warrant.

Over the years and decades, the results of this significant imbalance of voting strength and lack of representation have resulted in exactly what one would expect: Unresponsive elected officials, atrocious third-world roads, pathetic infrastructure, non-existent planning, zoning chaos, weak emergency protection, excessive taxation, redistribution of tax revenues, distant and absent county services and on and on.

Borrowing one of Commissioner Emma I. Darnell’s favorite terms: Is that “fair?”

The years of being under-represented in Fulton bears a blunt resemblance to why Americans rebelled against King George in 1776. The citizenry of north Fulton have and continue to rebel. To extricate themselves from Fulton commission powers, they formed new cities — Sandy Springs, Milton, Johns Creek.

After years of suffering, another step in righting this wrong is finally under way. The newly proposed redistricting plan would dissolve one of the countywide elected districts and leave six commission districts. Only the chairman would be elected countywide.

With six district seats and redrawn district boundaries, the power of Atlanta, south Fulton and north Fulton would, finally, come into a balanced representation. It is simple: equal representation.

Michael Fitzgerald is co-founder of the North Fulton & Friends Tea Party.

Proposed lines separate and unequal

By Emma I. Darnell

We oppose a proposal by north Fulton legislators to dilute the voting strength of the county’s racial and ethnic minorities. This is not who we are. It is not what we do. It is not how we do it.

Under the current plan, developed by the federal court in 2002, minority voters can elect three members of the board of commissioners. Under the north Fulton “redistricting plan,” minorities can elect only two members. By pairing two minority incumbents in a new district that stretches from Palmetto to Southwest Atlanta, the proposal reduces the number of minority commissioners representing the area from two to one. Other features of the plan are also troublesome to those who take an oath of office to uphold the U.S. Constitution of the United States and to protect minority voting rights.

A line drawn at 10th Street creates two counties: Three predominantly white districts in the north and three predominantly black districts in the South. Separate and unequal. Jesse Hill, Paul Coverdell and the others, black and white, who saved Atlanta when Birmingham was destroyed in the 1960’s must be turning over in their graves!

We believe in one county. It has worked well for us in the past. It will work well again in the future if we move forward together. Fulton County is one of the best-run counties in the state. We grew by 12 percent during the Great Recession. We will pay 0.16 percent interest on 2012 short-term bonds. We closed our books in Dec. 2012 with a $100 million surplus and placed $40 million of that in reserves. We cut water bills to Fulton County’s customers by 4 percent. Fulton County is the only county in the Atlanta Region that did not raise property taxes in 2013.

We have been unable to identify “North Senior Hunger” and South Senior Hunger. When an internal “State of Fulton Seniors” survey disclosed 10 percent of seniors attending the county’s 14 neighborhood centers were “skipping meals to make ends meet,”, the commissioners reduced waiting lists for center meals and home-delivered meals from Crabapple in the North to Hapeville in the South.

When state public health officials gave Fulton County an “F” in the (reduction of) health disparities, integrated services including jobs, housing and mental health information, were added to the county’s neighborhood health centers program.

Last year, clinics operated by Grady Hospital and located in Sandy Springs, East Point and Atlanta provided services to 145,550 patients. A mass transit system which runs from Hartsfield-Jackson Airport to Doraville is also largely paid for by Fulton, Atlanta and DeKalb County.

A redistricting plan developed by the board of commissioners in 2011 in consultation with some members of the Fulton County delegation was ignored. The current proposal was developed without input from the commissioners. Maybe we should come together and work it out.

For the children.

Emma I. Darnell is vice chair of the Fulton County Commission.

 

19 comments Add your comment

LMAO

February 14th, 2013
5:46 pm

@Shamehia these plans are coming from the GOP majority in the General Assembly. They want you to think Fulton County is rotten to the core. Fulton has not raise taxes in a while but, if you listen to the average NF resident Fulton raised taxes very recently when its a lie. All the counties around us have raised their taxes and Fulton remains the best rated according to Standards and Poor.

“Fulton County didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on Fulton County” – to use a phrase.

Isis

February 14th, 2013
5:20 pm

What is being proposed is designed to make us fight each other so we don’t focus on the facts. Decreased taxes and frozen millage will cripple the county’s ability to provide basic service and seriously reduce its revenue. Some homeowners may pay less taxes but at what cost? They will be forced to go into a contiguous such as Atlanta and Union City to provide those services, even if they don’t want to. The state doesn’t have term limits, why should the county? How many counties do and how many don’t? An unclassified system provides no protection for employees. They are at the mercy of whomever supervisor them. I smell tyranny. Frankly, I’m tired of the put down of Fulton County, a progressive well managed County. I’m tired of hearing about how we used the north’s money with no facts to substantiate the ranting about it. I’m tired of the racism and the attempt to revert to the days of Jim Crow. There’s a lot of diversity in the county. There are
whites who think what’s going on is deplorable and their are blacks who
don’t think it’s a problem. My fear is that this madness will not stop.
What’s going on now is a precursor to spliting the county. The message is if you stand in our way, we’ll destroy you. Enough is enough. We’re going to have to be smart about this. Sound bites won’t get it.
What’s the plan?

South Fulton Resident

February 14th, 2013
3:10 pm

Basically, when you come to a point where you would rather shoot yourself in the foot crippling your whole body from getting around, than to ask yourself “was my foot really hurting me that bad” that it had to be shot off. A lot of North and South Fulton people better start listening/questioning the people who speak for them. Some of them are pretending to be doctors and think they know what is good for you…. and a few who are doctors that tell you “oh, your foot didn’t need a body”

Shamehia

February 14th, 2013
2:14 pm

Fulton County government has reached a new low of dysfunction once we start divvying up commission seats by white and black.

The better solution may be to lop off North Fulton and either create new county #160 or merge it with one of the neighboring counties, e.g. Forsyth or Gwinnett.

LMAO

February 14th, 2013
1:20 pm

First off, this shouldn’t have nothing to do with race but, that’s what the republican minority wants. they know how easy it is to keep your attention away from the real game if they play around with race. It’s actually about Progressives vs Conservatives. President Obama won Fulton County by 118,000 votes. One-man One Vote is a f…ing joke. The GOP delegation wants to ensure republicans have equal if not majority status in this county. That’s impossible!!!! How else can I explain this? Less than 35% of the county population voted republican/teaparty. How is it that you can equate that with half of the district seats? This is a travesty of justice. This is akin to APARTHEID!!! The minority party ruling the majority. Democrats are not only black, they are white, Latino, Asian, Native born, gay, and straight AMERICANS. Fulton County is a majority Progressive county. The North Fulton GOP doesn’t like it therefore they are creating it into a “race issue”. Create districts where the GOP is the majority so they can at least control that outcome. Get you head out of the sand. Fulton County is a Progressive that happens to be the most fiscally conservative one in the nation but, that’s not enough. They want you to look past the accomplishments and only see the race of the people out front knowing your innate biases will take over.

Let me hip you wing nuts to something else. By living on the northside folks are automatically given the benefit of the doubt of their home values. My best guess is you folks carry an automatic $75k to $100k built in cushion to your home value. Let’s take a look at the folks in Sandy Springs, Milton, Johns Creek, Alpharetta, Roswell and Mountain Park. That cushion could rise as high as $150k. Think about it, drop the cushion and the value of homes in those new cities would result in those cities being near insolvency. Keep in mind these cities aren’t allowed to raise their property taxes but have remain solvent during the Great Recession. The banks, appraisers and mortgage companies are artificially keeping North Fulton a float even in a market that is seeing or have seen record foreclosures, even next door. Check Zillows.com values up north are stable even with next door foreclosure. Not down south. A foreclosure within two miles can mean an additional $25k hit to your already upside down value. The value for comparable homes on the southside are generally $150-$200k lower. You guys are benefiting from a shell game. At some point the that glass ball is going to fall to the floor. That’s part of the “white privilege” of north Fulton. The idea that a Progressive institution run by minorities is successful “can’t be so”.

South Fulton Resident

February 14th, 2013
11:53 am

@A Reader – I have lived in Atlanta and South Fulton all my life. I have never had free garbage pickup. In fact I am angry about the $62.00 quarterly bill I am currently paying.
@Sad – I too think that the commisoners should have term limits, but if this is not about race for you then why did you not mention Tom Lowe who has been on the board since I was a baby.
Get over this North Fulton, there is no way this redistricting should happen to appease less than half the county. The county is majority non-white and growing every day including in your North Fulton area. I too do not like all the bickering on the board but cannot argue with the fiscal statistics that it is still a well managed county. There are things such as the long Emma Darnell rants and the Hauser cut throat sneers that really make me turn the TV station. IT seems that North Fulton has done everything it can to hurt Fulton County. Creating your own cities to take charge of your own destiny was your idea. You should be more focused on ensuring that works well instead of coming back to destroy what works for Atlanta and South Fulton. I never thought that the commisioners of North Fulton worked hard enough for your behalf because they were too concerned about what South Fulton did and did not have. However, you cannot say by any means that North Fulton has not prospered under the current district alignment. No one was shouting they wanted to be their own county/city while all the money from South Fulton – Fulton Industiral Boulevard was flowing north. In my opion just like the Republican and Democrats cannot get along in congress the people suffer because nothing is getting done. So goes Fulton County, it will never work as well as it should because North and South Fulton cannot get along. We can be assured of one thing though, there will be a breaking point and you never know who will get the shorter end. Also, Kaseem Reed who represent Atlanta with the most people is awfully quiet while all these bills are floating around that impacts Atlanta. What deals has he made that keeps him so quiet?

W. B. McNasty

February 14th, 2013
10:25 am

For the Knowitall, what is wrong with fair treatment under the law? That might be an oxymoron. Who gets fair treatment under the law anymore? Most minorities don’t. Just face it, dude, or whatever you are–IT’S ALL ABOUT RACE!!! “Fair treatment under the law”–a bunch of hooey!

Mr. KnowitAll

February 14th, 2013
8:34 am

WB Nasty….The Tea Parties and conservative have this strange and odd notion to liberals and many minorities—They believe in the Constitution. One Man–One Vote.

For some reason, many of the race baiters cannot stomach the constitutional concepts of sharing power and want without some contorted advantage for being in the minority.

Let’s get this straight once and for all. This is NOT A RACIAL ISSUE! It is EQUAL REPRESENTATION guaranteed under the constitution.

What is the problem with fair treatment under the law?

W.B. McNasty

February 14th, 2013
7:54 am

This is so simple. Reshuffling the Fulton County Board of Commissioners is all about race and power. Broken down into “cornbread language” it is the following: the South side of Fulton and its Negros are getting too uppity for their britches. Kill that strength and dilute their voting power–get their leaders and the rest falls into place. Dirty politics? Yes. What else is new in Georgia?

Keep it up Tea Party people and the the Party of “old White Men.” You are destroying yourself.