Augusta Commission seeks federal intervention on new voting districts

Georgia lawmakers failed to approve redistricting plan

 

With the May 23 start of candidate qualifying approaching, the Augusta Commission voted 9-0 on Monday to seek intervention by a federal judge on redrawing commission and Richmond County school board district lines.

The decision – which came after a session behind closed doors with lawyers and other officials, including Board of Elections Director Lynn Bailey – is, in effect, “an action to let the court decide the map,” Augusta general counsel Andrew MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie said the closed-door discussion was appropriate because of the potential for litigation if elections are held under existing district lines drawn a decade ago, although MacKenzie said he was unaware of anyone filing suit.

Jurisdictions around the state approved new voting districts reflective of the 2010 census, but Augusta legislators disagreed along party lines with several options presented, leaving Augusta in the position of holding five commission and five school board elections this year using existing districts unless the court intervenes first.

Commissioner Jerry Brigham – who served on the ad hoc committee that developed and approved a district map, then withdrew his support – said the decision Monday was preferable to waiting on a lawsuit.

“It would be cheaper if we do it than if we have a citizen sue us,” Brigham said.

Because of population shifts, the existing districts vary widely in size. District 1, for example, is about 9,000 residents smaller than District 3. Both districts’ commission posts are coming open this year.

The commission took the action Monday after a legal meeting that preceded regular commission committee meetings. Commissioner Alvin Mason, who was chairman of the local redistricting committee, was absent.

Among Monday committee actions was a 4-0 rejection of applicant Tyrone Davis’ application for a beer, wine and liquor license at Cloud Nine Bar & Grill, situated in the former Shoney’s at 3156 Wrightsboro Road.

Speaking on behalf of nine Summerchase residents at the meeting who oppose the license, Donald Murphy said he was a combat veteran who knew the sound of gunfire. Some of it, Murphy said, even came from former university housing across Wrightsboro Road.

Before the club surrendered its license in February, deputies tallied 148 incidents there, including 15 for underage consumption, according to city documents and previous reports.

Committees rejected no other actions, although items on the Administrative Services Committee agenda were tabled because no quorum was present.

The Engineering Services Committee inched toward approving a solid-waste collection contract to replace the agreement that ended in December. The committee agreed 4-0 to begin negotiations with two waste haulers, each of which have Augusta-area offices, to perform weekly pickup, a change from biweekly pickup.

The option allows the two haulers to use subcontractors, requires new trash trucks to run on compressed natural gas, allows the hauler to bring additional waste from other counties to Augusta’s landfill and leaves open the potential for curbside hazardous-waste pickup and credits for families that recycle often.

 

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