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Georgia attorney general's office supports November Augusta Commission election date

City exempted from new law, state office says

Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011 3:16 PM
Last updated Friday, Dec. 23, 2011 2:41 AM
  • Follow Elections

Augusta’s charter trumps a new state law that tried to move the date of Augusta Commission elections from November to July, according to an opinion issued Wednesday by a deputy Georgia attorney general.

Deputy Attorney General Dennis Dunn's letter  Special
Special
Deputy Attorney General Dennis Dunn's letter

The opinion letter, provided at the request of Augusta general counsel Andrew MacKenzie, supports the city law office’s ruling that Augusta-Richmond County, despite being a consolidated government, operates as a municipality for election purposes and is exempt from the date change.

Passed last year, House Bill 158 moved the election date for local school board offices, judicial races and offices of consolidated governments to the date of the Georgia General Primary, July 31.

The change would have moved the date of five commission elections next year, but a “municipality” exception within Georgia laws permits Augusta’s charter to set city election dates, which the charter specifies are to be on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, according to the opinion letter from Deputy Attorney General Dennis Dunn.

That, for elections purposes, Augusta is a city, not a county, places Augusta in a unique position, because all other Georgia cities hold municipal elections in odd-numbered years, said Dunn, the deputy attorney general for government services. Augusta’s charter places elections in even-numbered years.

Dunn’s opinion also criticized the General Assembly for enacting House Bill 158 without full knowledge of how the statute would be applied to consolidated governments. The decision regarding Augusta’s election dates might be different from that made in other consolidated governments, he said. In Georgia, there are seven consolidated city-county governments.

Former Augusta Commission candidate Sean Frantom said he was a bit disappointed by the decision. A shorter election cycle, with qualifying in May and elections in July, would mean less fundraising and greater prominence on the ballot, he said.

“I don’t want to get lost in the shuffle” on the presidential election ballot, Frantom said, though he said he hasn’t determined whether he will seek the District 7 commission post next year.

Richmond County Board of Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey said that unlike consolidated Athens-Clarke and Columbus-Muscogee, Augusta-Richmond County has always conducted its elections as a municipality, not a county. Bailey applauded the opinion for settling the city date issue and supporting the decision of Augusta’s law office.

The same legislation approved last year that tried to move the date of school board elections to July also leaves the date of five Richmond County Board of Education elections uncertain.

School board attorney Pete Fletcher said the system is one of six formed before 1877, the date of the Georgia constitution, so the schools’ charter might preclude the new law, although the legal question has not been decided.

Fletcher said he will present recommendations regarding the dates when the board convenes in January. Five school board posts come open in 2012.

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Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 12/22/11 - 06:01 pm
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I wish David Fry or one of

I wish David Fry or one of his lawyer friends would file an appeal to this wrong opinion in state appeals court. The city deserves another lawsuit for trying to gum up the works in the election. And the wishes of the state legislature in the matter of how we hold our elections should be of more weight than that of a single deputy attorney general. Let a court decide, not a third-rate bureaucrat.

dichotomy
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dichotomy 12/22/11 - 06:32 pm
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Seems it would be beneficial

Seems it would be beneficial to have a separate election where the focus was on local offices. It amazes me that every time something that might help our situation comes along, Augusta is either immune to it or figures out how to get out of it. As usual, the Augusta Charter dooms us to be like this forever. Consolidation is the dumbest thing the old county residents ever did.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 12/22/11 - 11:33 pm
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LL said, "Let a court decide,

LL said, "Let a court decide, not a third-rate bureaucrat." Ha, a good description.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 12/22/11 - 11:40 pm
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"Board attorney Pete Fletcher

"Board attorney Pete Fletcher said the system is one of six formed before 1877, the date of the Georgia constitution, so the schools’ charter might preclude the new law..."

Now that's some esoteric law. With that reasoning the Board could pretty much do anything and say they have been here from before the 1877 constitution. Instead of president of ASU, I'm now applying to be a judge.

Dipshot
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Dipshot 12/23/11 - 02:37 pm
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The STATE attorney General

The STATE attorney General did decide.. and he said the local elections could remain in November. That should settle the matter. Moving all local elections to midsummer is stupid and does nothing to avoid costly run-offs.( which law sponsors said was their intent).. if that was so, why single out only certain local governments? If the state legislature really wanted to end costly run-offs they could simply institute an instant run-off system. I think this law was al about suppressing voter turnout to help certain groups maintain power.

Dipshot
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Dipshot 12/23/11 - 03:57 pm
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Plus moving the local non

Plus moving the local non partisan races to July would not be creating a special election focusing just on local races, instead it would put local races on the partisan general primary ballots. This was a bad move and I'm glad the state attorney general said that Augusta's charter exempted it from this misguided law.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 12/23/11 - 04:31 pm
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The state's attorney general

The state's attorney general DECIDED nothing, Dipshot. Quoting the article above all we have is “an opinion issued Wednesday by a deputy Georgia attorney general.” This matter needs to be taken to a court where an administrative law judge can issue the correct decision.

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