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Fulton Commissioners challenge GOP legislation curbing powers

BOC will fight doubling homestead exemption, millage cap, redistricting, civil service changes

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February 13, 2013
ATLANTA – The Democrats on the Fulton Board of Commissioners are not going to take the Fulton legislative delegation's attempts to curb their powers lying down.

At its Feb. 6 meeting, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners voted 5-2 to oppose House Bills 170, 171 and 172, which propose changes to the county's homestead exemption, millage rate, governance structure and employees' classification status.

The next day, they led a host of Atlanta and South Fulton supporters to denounce the moves by the delegation in a public hearing at Room 403 at the Capitol Building.

The BOC resolution is sponsored by five Democrats on the board, Chairman John Eaves, Vice-Chair Emma I. Darnell and Commissioners William "Bill" Edwards, Joan P. Garner and Robert "Robb" Pitts. Republicans Liz Hausmann and Tom Lowe voted against it.

The resolution states the board's opposition to House Bills 170, 171 and 172. The commissioners say the negative effects of those bills include:

** Affecting the ability of Fulton County government to continue to provide essential services to its citizens.

** Denying the voting rights of Fulton County citizens.

** Denying the right of Fulton County employees to be free from arbitrary treatment and disciplinary actions.

At the joint meeting, the Fulton County House and Senate delegations listened to stinging rebukes of the proposed legislation. Room 403 was filled with county employees concerned about declassification, Atlanta clergy and elected officials who weighed in against the proposals.

Some decried the legislation as an alternative to Milton County, which North Fulton legislators have long supported but haven't had the support of the General Assembly.

Alvetina Lee, a lobbyist for the MARTA Transit Union, called the bill to declassify all county employees "an attack on workers' rights."

"You should quit these negative attacks and allow the county to handle our business," Lee said.

The Rev. Albert E. Love, vice president of Concerned Black Clergy, called the bills "a bad idea, a terrible idea."

"It's almost embarrassing to say I'm from Georgia. Let's be progressive," he said.

State Sen. John Albers, R-Alpharetta, said the legislation is offering residents to increase their homestead exemption and cut taxes. It would also give a more fair representation to all Fulton residents by splitting two districts in North Fulton and taking away the at-large district now held by Robb Pitts.

"We're just creating districts that reflect the changing population that has come into North Fulton. There is nothing unfair about that," Albers said.

Fulton Commission Chairman Eaves has called the bills "punitive" and will ultimately cause Fulton County to cut funding for Grady Hospital, library hours and personnel, arts programs, senior centers and more.

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Bills to trim BOC powers

** House Bill 170 would have a significant economic effect on Fulton County government, particularly in the area of revenue. This bill proposes a countywide referendum to increase Fulton County's homestead exemption from the current amount of $30,000 to $60,000. H.B. 170 also proposes to cap the Fulton County general fund millage rate that would take a 5-2 majority to override.

** H.B. 171 seeks to change the current commission district lines for the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. This bill would increase the number of district commission seats and eliminate the second at-large seat that currently exists. This bill changes the distribution and layout of the current geographic commission districts. It also establishes staggered terms for Fulton County Commissioners.

** H.B. 172 seeks to make changes to Fulton County's civil service system for employees. Any employee who is hired after the adoption of this bill would be automatically placed in unclassified status. Any current employee who is in classified status but who accepts another position within Fulton County government will be placed in unclassified status. Positions that are currently unclassified will remain unclassified.

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    One Man--One Vote
    February 17, 2013 | 03:48 PM

    Redistricting: One Man/One Vote

    By Michael Fitzgerald, Johns Creek

    One Manâ€"One Vote. It is a simple premise that stands as a cornerstone of freedom and the representative republic of these United States. It depicts the notion that every man’s (and woman’s) vote carries the same value as the other. It is one of the core freedoms that millions of American soldiers have fought and many have died for. It is what Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life to ensure. Equal representation. One man---One Vote.

    However, in Fulton County, the One Man/One Vote concept does not apply!
    It only takes simple math and objective observation to prove Fulton County, in its current form, does not adhere to this basic American tenant.

    Do the math: According to the Census of 2010, Fulton County has a population of approximately 921,000. In what is generally termed “North Fulton County”, due to growth and populace trends, the population approaches 400,000. One need only observe current district commission boundaries to determine ONLY ONE of the 7 district commission seats represents just under half of the county’s population. Commission District 3’s (Commissioner Hausmann) voting strength is diluted compared to ANY other District in Fulton County.

    Observe: Also worth noting is the location of the homes of the County Commissioners. Five of the seven commissioners live in what is generally considered Atlanta and South Fulton County. An additional commissioner, District 4 Lowe, lives just outside the Atlanta city limits.

    Unequivocally, this gives Atlanta and South Fulton lop-sided and disproportionate clout on the Board of Commissioners that its population simply does not warrant.

    Over the years and decades, the results of this significant imbalance of voting strength and lack of representation has resulted in exactly what one would expect: Unresponsive (if not downright vindictive) elected officials, atrocious 3rd world roads, pathetic infrastructure, non-existent planning, zoning chaos, weak emergency protection, excessive taxation, redistribution of tax revenues, distant and absent county services, and on and on.

    Borrowing one of Commissioner Emma Darnell’s favorite termsâ€"Is that “Fair”?

    The years of being under-represented in Fulton County bears a blunt resemblance to why Americans rebelled against King George in 1776!

    And indeed, the citizenry of N. Fulton have and continue to rebel. To extricate themselves from the Fulton Commission powers, they formed new cities (Sandy Springs, Milton, Johns Creek) and solidified a passionate and entrenched yearning to form their own county to remove themselves from demonstrable and continuing long-term tyranny.

    After years of untenable suffering, another step in righting this wrong is finally under way. The newly proposed bill from District 50 Representative, Chairperson of the Fulton delegation and former Fulton County Commissioner Lynne Riley, would dissolve one of the county-wide elected districts and leave six commission districts. Only the Chairman would be elected county-wide.

    With six district seats and redrawn district boundaries, the power of Atlanta, South Fulton and North Fulton would---FINALLYâ€"come into a balanced representation on the Fulton County Commission.

    It is simple: Equal Representation. One manâ€"One Vote.

    Who could argue with that?

    Just Nasty & Mean
    Johns Creek
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