The widower of Fayette County’s first black commissioner urged county leaders Thursday night in an impassioned plea not to revert back to the county’s old system of voting when filling his late wife’s seat.
Bernard Coston implored commissioners to stick with the court-ordered district voting, which has been challenged by the county. A trial will determine whether the county keeps district voting or goes back to at-large voting. A trial date has not been set yet.
“The intent of district voting is to allow citizens to be represented and their voices to be heard,” said Coston, whose wife Pota Coston served as commissioner for six months before succumbing to cancer last week. “In the short time that my wife held the position of commissioner, you could see that people were energized and they were looking forward to a bright future. As a citizen of Fayette County, I want us to continue to move forward.”
Coston’s rousing plea, which drew a standing ovation, comes one day before his family is set to memorialize the 57-year-old county leader who represented the mostly-black District 5. A wake will be held Friday. She will be buried Saturday.
Thursday’s commission meeting drew a packed crowd most of whom were there to protest any effort by the county to use at-large voting to fill Coston’s seat. But the four commissioners insisted they had not made a decision on how to proceed in filling the job. They met in executive session to discuss their options.
A group of black residents along with the NAACP took the county to court several years ago over the county’s at-large voting system saying it was discriminatory and keept blacks from getting elected to county-level posts. A U.S. District Court judge agreed and ordered the county to adopt a district plan that called for creating five districts, one of which would be mostly black. The county appealed and the case was sent back to the lower courts for a trial. That trial date has not been set yet.
As it stands, the county’s charter allows officials to use the at-large process for special elections.
“We’re in an extremely difficult situation,” Chairman Charles Oddo told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the executive session. “We’ve got a system to follow. Everything’s still in litigation.”
The board delayed any decision Thursday preferring to wait until the Board of Elections meets on Tuesday, Oddo said.