Fayette’s voting fight proves costly

What the lawsuit has cost Fayette County

Here’s a month-by-month look at what Fayette spent fighting the voting rights case:

Fayette County Board of Commissioners

October 2011: $10,105.02

November 2011: $ 5,531.71

March 2012: $14,467.81

September 2012: $197,581.59

December 2012: $ 50,464.16

January 2013: $ 5,371.77

December 2014: $137,059.86

June 2015: $36,509.96

July 2015: $27,612.50

Total: $485,559.38*

*This is the latest figure available. It includes $855 paid to Fayette County attorney Dennis Davenport. The remainder of the money was paid to the Atlanta law firm of Strickland Brockington Lewis LLP.

Fayette County Board of Education

The school board has had two law firms. Here’s a breakdown of money that went to each firm.

Payments to Harben, Hartley & Hawkins

August 2011: $1,763.00

October 2011: $3,516.18

November 2011: $4,720.82

August 2013: $ 820.75

January 2014: $ 180.00

February 2014: $8,038.20

April 2014: $3,773.00

May 2014: $2,081.50

July 2014: $9,811.50

Total $34,704.95

Payments to Parks, Chesin & Walbert

May 2014: $172,598.80

July 2014: $ 3,942.83

August 2014: $ 57,611.34

December 2014: $ 36,574.05

March 2015: $ 8,773.50

April 2015: $16,276.03

May 2015: $59,801.37

June 2015: $66,462.20

July 2015: $56,735.81

August 2015: $56,044.33

September 2015: $55,215.91

Total: $590,036.17

NOTE: The Georgia School Board Association Insurance paid $40,000 in February 2014 toward the school board’s defense.

Source: Fayette County

What’s next

The Fayette Board of Commissioners and the NAACP are meeting with a mediator Wednesday to try to resolve disagreement over whether the county should hold elections countywide or use districts. If the effort fails, a court will hold a settlement conference to try to resolve the issue.

The two feuding sides in the Fayette County voting rights case are scheduled to sit down Wednesday with an Atlanta mediator to try to resolve the four-year-old fight over how best to elect county officials.

Fayette officials want at-large voting because they say it allows voters a say in the election of all five commissioners and school board members. They say Fayette’s black population isn’t large enough or geographically compact enough to warrant a mostly black voting district and that efforts to create one has amounted to gerrymandering.

Arguing that district voting is more equitable, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund sued the county in 2011. Two years later, U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten ordered the county to end at-large voting and create district voting. The county appealed and an appeals court sent the case back to Batten for trial, which is slated for next month.

A settlement this week would keep the two sides from having to hash it out in a trial next month and could put to rest what has become a divisive, lengthy and costly legal fight. The NAACP’s fee are about $1 million so far, while the school board and county commission have spent a combined $1.1 million.

The school board has paid a total of $624,741.12 so far to two different law firms. Atlanta law firm Parks, Chesin & Walbert has received the lion’s share — $590,036.17. Gainesville law firm Harben, Hartley & Hawkins received $34,704.95.

To date, county commissioners have paid $484,704.38 to the Atlanta law firm of Stickland Brockington Lewis.

“This could have gone to employee raises, hiring more people and enhancing the county’s benefits or retirement programs,” said State Rep. Virgil Fludd, a Tyrone resident. “It could have gone to senior services or road improvements. It’s hard to understand why people are hellbent and determined (to fight this case).”

Fludd says the fighting continues because of a “loud minority” that wants the case to go to trial and county officials want to be able to say they took the fight as far as they could.

“That’s not leadership,” Fludd said.

The documents show that the county’s fight to hold on to its nearly 200-year-old voting practice escalated dramatically after Batten’s 2013 ruling.

Rapson noted that the county’s budget is in good shape despite the ongoing legal fight.

“Our revenues compared to expenditures are balanced right now,” Rapson said. “Revenues are exceeding expenditures.”