Fayette Co. legal bill breaks $1 million in special election dispute | News
FAYETTE COUNTY, Ga. -- An intense legal battle is costing taxpayers in Fayette County around a million dollars - and it's far from over.
The case stems from the seat vacated by Pota Coston who lost her battle with breast cancer.
On Wednesday, the board agreed to abide by a judge's ruling to use district voting in an upcoming special election.
That means her replacement can only be elected by those in her district.
The legal battle has lasted four years and used $1 million in taxpayer money. And while the county board will not fight the ruling on this special election, it continues to fight to preserve a system of voting most Georgia counties have left behind.
The commissioners called a special meeting, Wednesday, to discuss pending litigation. And that litigation brought out residents waiting for a board that went immediately into private session.
That didn't deter some however.
"See, I'm retired; I got all day," one said.
Some just wanted to see a long-winded controversy finally cease.
"I'm hoping that's what they're doing back there - they're making a decision to end this," another said.
For so long, Fayette County used at-large elections where everyone - county-wide - voted for each district's commissioner.
In 2011, the NAACP filed a lawsuit saying the system "essentially guarantees no African-American will be elected".
In 2013, a federal judge agreed saying "it is undisputed that ... voting in Fayette County is racially polarized."
He ruled a district commissioner could only be elected by those in that district. In 2014, largely black District 5 elected Pota Coston - the first black elected official in county history.
"So that we all have a voice; that we have someone on the commission who represents our interests," Fayette County resident Lelia Richardson said.
"This is beyond a dollars-and cents-kind of issue on both sides," Fayette County Commission Chairman Charles Oddo said.
The county has continued to appeal, thus far sending a million tax dollars on legal fees and hiring a private firm instead of using their own attorneys.
"I don't know if government's ever been accused of spending money wisely all the time, so everybody's got their opinion on this," Oddo said when asked why this was more than a debate over money.
On this day the board decided not to appeal this special election. Coston died lst month. Her replacement will be elected the same way she was.
"One step at a time; one baby step at a time," a resident said.
Everything else is still in dispute.
"This is a board decision and, when the time comes, the board will make that decision," Chairman Oddo said regarding the possibility of continued litigation.
If the current legal decision stands, the county would not just have to pay it's own legal fees, but that of the plaintiff. And those fees currently stand at $850,000 - nearly doubling the tax dollars already spent.