Personal Observations On Settlement Tuesday, 01/26/2016
Thursday, Jan. 14, an agreement was reached on the district voting lawsuit that would have tested the wisdom of Solomon. Over the months, citizens eloquently and passionately have expressed their opposing viewpoints.
In my tenure as commissioner, I have made few decisions as difficult and none that impacts so many.
Aside from the persuasive arguments for or against at-large and district voting, the reality of the situation in which the county found itself was crucial.
The judge had already ruled against Fayette County twice. The county’s win on appeal was on procedural grounds. Clearly, the situation was disappointing.
If the county pursued a trial, and the judge ruled against the county again, the option would be a return to the appeals court. Looking at that court’s last decision, the odds of prevailing would be nil.
Any relief from an adverse ruling would be with the U.S. Supreme Court, with any hearing being at the discretion of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court accepts about 1 percent of the cases brought to it.
The odds of a successful conclusion would be infinitesimally small.
Even more disconcerting, the case most likely would not be settled for several years, ensuring that only district voting would be available in 2016, 2018, and possibly 2020.
Further, demographic trends have been and are pointing to district voting by 2020 regardless of this lawsuit.
Equally unappealing to me would be the notion of district voting as it currently exists.
In the face of such uncertainty, my goal became to find some other resolution. Perhaps the county could not win everything, but it should not lose everything either.
We could try to soften what the judge did as much as possible, and I had hoped, with board approval, to begin that process. Judge Batten’s subsequent order of mediation preempted such effort.
What was the effect of the original judicial ruling?
1. Gerrymandered districts.
2. Loss of the right to vote for all commissioners.
3. Perception of discrimination in Fayette County.
4. Exposure to plaintiffs’ legal fees.
These issues would have to be addressed before I felt the Board of Commissioners could consider supporting a settlement.
Hours of mediation and weeks of follow-up with the plaintiffs produced the settlement I felt was, in the end, the best option, and here’s why:
• Gerrymandering eliminated. District lines now follow more natural boundaries.
One at-large voting district remains. That is vital. I would have preferred two, but having one is far better than having none. The judge does not have discretion to create an at-large district. Without an agreement between the plaintiffs and the defendants, Fayette County would have district voting only.
• Acknowledgement by plaintiffs of non-discrimination.
Current NAACP fees are $1.2 million, the additional amount the county would pay today if it loses the case. I could not have agreed to any settlement unless the fees were addressed. This agreement caps the county’s financial obligation at $125,000. If the appeal continued, the county’s financial obligation to the plaintiffs could well have topped $2 million with the complete loss of at-large voting.
It is important to note that the resolution, while not what the county sought, is far better than where it was headed. Some rights have been preserved and the county legal fees have been dramatically reduced.
After considering all the facts, after considering the likely outcomes, after considering what could be preserved and not lost, I concluded the prudent course of action was to pursue the settlement ultimately agreed to by the plaintiffs. While the county did not win everything, it did not lose everything. We did not walk away with nothing.