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.