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Gainesville City Council faces more opposition to at-large voting at meeting

POSTED: June 5, 2013 12:58 a.m.

Gainesville has an ugly history of discrimination and the city’s at-large voting system is violating the federal Voting Rights Act, a speaker said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, was one of several speakers opposing the at-large system, disputing city claims that the at-large system provides good and equitable representation of all residents by allowing all voters to choose a representative for each ward.

Some of the speakers came to the meeting because they had heard someone with the city was planning to read a statement about the dispute between the city and the Latino officials’ group at the meeting.

Council members addressed the speakers, but didn’t read a formal statement on behalf of the city.

Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan confirmed after the meeting that such a statement had been prepared, but referred to it as more like “talking points.”

“We don’t need to argue it here, that’s between the lawyers,” Dunagan said. “We just wanted some talking points, basically talking points to answer some questions in our mind.”

An email obtained by The Times, from Celia M. Robinson, with the law firm of Brinson, Askew, Berry, Seigler, Richardson & Davis LLP included the draft of a formal statement and some bullet phrases titled “Talking points.”

Attorney Robert Brinson is representing the city in its long-running dispute with GALEO over the demographic composition of city election districts.

The email was addressed to Gainesville City Clerk Denise Jordan and said it had the “talking points and the council statement” attached. It was signed “Bob and Andy.”

The email said that the city “steadfastly” denies that its election system violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and that it has failed to receive requested information from Keegan Federal, the lawyer representing GALEO.

The email also mentions a recent court decision that the at-large voting system in Fayette County violates the constitutional rights of blacks. It noted that the facts in the Fayette case are different from those in Gainesville, and disputes Federal’s contention that the court decision was a “bellwether” ruling.

The mayor said at Tuesday’s meeting that Hispanics are an integral part of the city and the economy. Councilwoman Ruth Bruner said all the speakers made “wonderful points,” and some council members said they want more engagement with the Latino population.

“This council does take this very seriously,” Dunagan said at the meeting. “We are looking at this issue, as Jody (Cooley) said, and we care about our city. We care about the Latino population.”

Democrat Jody Cooley ran for Congress in the 9th District last year. He said at Tuesday’s meeting that he’s encouraging Gainesville to change the system.

The Times has also obtained a letter from Brinson, dated May 31, that said the data GALEO has provided to the city don’t include a discussion of “citizen voting-age population” and a map or a chart of districts that prove GALEO’s legal case can meet the federal criteria required under the civil-rights law.

“We’ve never talked about redrawing the lines in the districts,” Gonzalez said.

The email also includes a chain of earlier emails from J. Anderson Davis, “Andy,” and Peter A. Morrison, of Nantucket, Mass. The networking website LinkedIn lists a Peter A. Morrison, with Morrison & Associates Inc. His title on the website says applied demographics analysis. The May 31 letter copies Davis and members of the city.

In an email dated Sept. 6, 2012, Morrison appeared to be quoting prices for doing demographic work for the city and testifying in court if necessary. In an email later that month, Morrison said GALEO can’t prove “Hispanics’s geographic compactness,” which is required by the federal election law.

Attorneys for the city have in the past said they had consulted an expert for an opinion on the GALEO debate, but had declined to identify that expert or to provide any of the information provided by him.


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