A hotly-debated chapter in Fayette County could be coming to an end. At its Tuesday night called work session, the Board of Education voted to approve a settlement agreement for the voting rights lawsuit and a redistricting plan that will create four seats elected via districts and one by at-large voting.
Though both motions passed unanimously, it was clear Board of Education Chair Marion Key was troubled by the move. Following an hour in executive session, Key read the following statement prior to the vote: “Fayette County has, for many years, been unique among Metro Atlanta counties. What has made us unique is our school system, our land use plan, and our at-large voting. This at-large voting practice has resulted in our local elected officials being accountable to all citizens. As a board, we have done our due diligence in the defense of our school system and our county. I do not believe that the Boards of Education, either past or present, have violated any federal laws, but I do believe we could have solved our differences within the county, rather than in the court system. Even though we were not allowed to have our day in court, we did engage in a mediation process that resulted in this agreement. Given the time and effort that has gone into this process, I am optimistic that we can work together to provide the best possible education for our students and to contribute positively to the quality of life of our community.”
The settlement was the continuation of a long process between both sides of the lawsuit.
“We’re not deciding anything tonight. We’re announcing to the public a decision that was made back in October,” said board member Dr. Barry Marchman. “This is just the unveiling of that decision that was made several months ago.”
Board member Leonard Presberg expressed relief at the end of the battle in a post on Facebook. “Proud to have voted to settle the Voting Rights lawsuit. It’s time for a new chapter of equality and inclusiveness in Fayette County,” adding that he will now represent the new District 4.
The Board of Commissioners have not yet voted on any settlement. Their next meeting is Thursday, Jan. 14.
BOE approves compromise settlement for district elections
The Fayette County Board of Education unanimously approved a compromise settlement of the federal litigation over district elections, which has been ongoing since 2011, during a called meeting on January 12.
The compromise settlement will have a minimum impact in the way Board of Education members are elected, and it will end the financial burden the litigation has caused. The settlement allows for the continued use of some at-large elections now and in the future. The 2016 election will use a four district, one at-large plan.
After many hours of consideration and detailed discussions with its counsel, the Board concluded that this compromise settlement is in the best interest of the school system and the public. The settlement completely eliminates the contorted and gerrymandered election district that had been imposed by the federal court in its previous orders. It allows for the continuation of some at-large seats, and eliminates the school district’s potential exposure to payment of over $1 million of attorney’s fees to the plaintiffs’ lawyers if the case were litigated further, which would have led to more appeals. The Board felt a heavy responsibility to its students, and to the county’s taxpayers, to ensure that public funds are being used to secure the best possible education for Fayette County’s students.
A consent order will be presented promptly to the district court that will set forth the details of the settlement. The plaintiffs, through their counsel, have agreed to the terms of the settlement.
Anyone needing further information can contact school board attorney David F. Walbert at 404-873-8000.