Rev. Lowery Sues over North Fulton Cities, Claims Black Vote Dilution

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This article first appeared on The Beacon website at: http://www.beaconcastmedia.com/news/-Rev-Lowery-Sues-over-North-Fulton-Cities-Claims-Black-Vote-Dilution-2887

(APN) ATLANTA — Rev. Joseph Lowery, one of the few remaining veterans of the Civil Rights Movement who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, has joined with the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus and several Black residents of North Fulton and Dekalb Counties, to challenge what has been the creation of five new cities in North and Dekalb over the last six years.

The five new cities are Sandy Springs, created in 2005; Johns Creek and Milton, formed in 2006; Chattahoochee Hills, formed in 2007; and Dunwoody, created in 2008.  Dunwoody is part of Dekalb, while the other four are part of Fulton.

The lawsuit, case number 1:11-CV-09, filed on March 28, 2011, in US District Court, Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta division, is said to have gotten the attention of Obama Administraion Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers’ attention.

The six individual Plaintiffs, in addition to Lowery and the Caucus, are Lisa Barnes, a Dunwoody resident; Joyce Carlisle, a Dunwoody resident; Portia Codjoe, a Johns Creek resident; Shelia Garvin, a Dunwoody resident; Leola Gordon, a Johns Creek resident; and Brenda Pace, a resident of Dekalb County but not Dunwoody.  Lowery is a resident of Fulton County but not of the northern Fulton cities.

The lawsuit alleges that the legislature allowed the creation of majority-majority cities, or White enclaves, out of majority-minority counties, in what amounts to the dilution of Black voting blocs in the form of redistricting in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.

“We believe they’ve been creating majority White districts from an existing African American power base,” Lance Robertson, a spokesman for the Plaintiffs, said at a press conference held at the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda office in late March.

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that majority-Black voting populations in Fulton and Dekalb Counties were represented by majority-Black county commissions, and that the creation of these cities diluted this representation

IT’S ALL ABOUT MILTON COUNTY

The lawsuit also appears to launch a preemptive strike against current efforts in the Georgia legislature to re-create a Milton County, by challenging those efforts while they are still in progress.

“I was invited by the Caucus to support this. I think it’s worthy of support. The issue ought to be addressed by the courts. There are many questions that need to be answered and clarified… to make sure the Voting Rights Act is being honored and recognized,” Lowery said.

However, Todd Rehm, a Republican political consultant with Sand Mountain Communications, disagreed with the lawsuit.

“My response would be in each of these cases, the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division pre-cleared the cities. That doesn’t prevent the [courts] from finding a violation, but it does suggest the best minds in the legal world have determined there’s no violation.  And that’s pretty convincing to me as a layperson. I suspect it will be pretty convincing to a federal court,” Rehm said.

Rehm also argued that the suburban cities are more diverse than is recognized, noting that the 2010 Census numbers show a large Hispanic and Asian-American population in Johns Creek.

“One of the things that they say in making the case is, all of the people elected [in the new cities] are White. In Johns Creek, there is one Hispanic member, Ivan Figueroa, and one African American member, Karen Richardson, on the six member board.”

Johns Creek City Council Member Karen Richardson, in additional to recently-elected Council Member Kelly Stewart, referred all questions to the public information officer for Johns Creek.  The public information officer declined to comment on pending litigation.

Also in terms of diversity, the City of Milton recently elected an openly homosexual Council Member, Alan Tart, who according to his bio on the City’s website, has lived in Milton for several years with “his partner David.”

Meanwhile, the lawsuit also alleges the Georgia legislature circumvented its usual processes to allow the creation of the five cities through the use of “local legislation.”

However, Rehm notes that this issue of circumventing procedures “was rejected by a US district court and appellate court in a case coming out of Sandy Springs.”

That case, filed by two advocates for the incorporation of Sandy Springs in 2002, now-Sandy Springs Council Member Tiberio Dejulio and now-Mayor Eva Galambos, against the State of Georgia, was filed “in order to put this question [over the legality of the Georgia legislature using local legislation] to rest,” Rehm said.

Bernie Tokars, another Republican political consultant, pointed out that, according to the 2010 Census, Fulton County is no longer majority Black; it’s plurality White.

“I think the whole suit is bogus. The point is to set the stage to a challenge to Milton County and redistricting,” Tokars said.

“It’s all about setting the narrative, that White Republicans are violating the Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment and equal protection. There’s never been a lawsuit of this kind… that has challenged the incorporation of cities, villages, or towns,” Tokars added.

“There’s a power base in Atlanta and Fulton who see their voter base eroding with the creation of these cities by the home-rule movement of North Fulton citizens who want self-determination,” Tokars maintained.

Tokars also questioned the timing of the lawsuit and why the Plaintiffs waited until years after the cities were created to challenge them.

However, Richardson said in a phone interview that years of legal research and meetings with Department of Justice officials were required to put this lawsuit together.

At their initial press conference, reporters packed into a crowded room for a chance to ask questions, but the Plaintiffs were not actually saying much.

First, The Beacon Broadcast Network (BBN) asked, seeing as how these cities have already elected City Councils and created ordinances and more, is fair to take that away from the residents of those cities now?  “We’ll let the courts decide,” Robertson said.

Second, BBN asked if the Plaintiffs believed the creation of these cities was motivated by race or class? “We’ll let the courts decide,” Robertson repeated.

But Rehm denied that race and class were motivating factors.

“I think it was motivated by disappointment in the level of service they were receiving from the county and the governance of the county.  Really it came down more to property taxes and who was gonna control the amount of property taxes they pay,” Rehm said.

(END / 2011)

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