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Hispanic group, Gainesville spar over voting data
GALEO wants to make at-large election system an issue
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GALEO voting rights meeting

What: A meeting about Gainesville’s at-large voting system hosted by GALEO, a Hispanic advocacy group

When: 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Cielos Abiertos, 1216 Aviation Blvd., Suite 107-112, Gainesville

How much: Free

More info: 404-745-2580

Georgia Hispanic leaders plan to make Gainesville’s at-large voting system an election-year issue in the city’s mayoral and city council races.

The Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials is holding a voting rights committee meeting Tuesday evening to educate residents on the city’s voting system and talk about next steps for those who want to change the system. That could include starting a petition, calling city council members, attending city council meetings and holding voter membership drives.

GALEO officials said the system is discriminatory because it dilutes the votes of city districts with majority Hispanic populations and denies them the opportunity to elect leaders of their choice.

Gainesville’s attorney, Robert Brinson, said the system provides good and equitable representation to all city residents by allowing all voters to choose a representative from each ward. Both parties have analysis from national experts on the Latino electorate in Gainesville.

Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of GALEO, said the group has tried to set up a meeting with city leaders so both could share the findings. He wants to make sure the city understands its findings, and said he expects the city to be transparent as well.

However Brinson, from the law firm Brinson, Askew, Berry, Seigler, Richardson & Davis LLP in Rome, said Gainesville leaders refuse to meet with the organization until it provides the city with its findings. Gainesville will show its findings in response to GALEO showing its first, Brinson said.

“We want to be prepared to ask questions and have our expert look at it,” Brinson said. “We can’t just walk in blind and not see the findings first.”

Gonzalez said he is disappointed that the city is putting roadblocks, and said Gainesville City Council should take this matter seriously.

Candidates for Gainesville mayor and Ward 1 and 4 city council seats can register in August for the Nov. 5 municipal elections.

“This issue isn’t going to go away,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve bent over backward to work with the city, but it’s chosen not to be open and transparent. That bothers me, and it should bother city taxpayers.”

Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said he’s heard of the voting rights meeting, but is not planning to attend due to a conflict. Dunagan also said he agrees with Brinson’s refusal to meet with GALEO unless the group gives its findings first.

“I could care less what Jerry Gonzalez said anyway,” Dunagan said.

Gainesville has also declined to release its findings to The Times. However, in an Oct. 9, 2012, letter Brinson sent to attorney R. Keegan Federal Jr. of Federal & Hasson law firm, who represents GALEO, he said “our study of the situation demonstrates that the minority group is not sufficiently numerous and geographically compact to elect candidates ‘of its choice’ within a single-member district drawn solely for that purpose.”

GALEO hasn’t released its findings publicly either, but Gonzalez said it will. Brinson said in February the city’s analysis is exempt from the open records act because it is attorney work tied to pending legislation. Litigation is imminent, Brinson said.

“That’s what it sounds like to me,” he said.

Gonzalez said his group wants to find a civil solution, but has threatened litigation, though no suit is pending in court.

“We’re trying to avoid it, Gonzalez said.

GALEO members have called about 800 registered voters in Gainesville to tell them about Tuesday’s event and try to get them engaged. It runs from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Cielos Abiertos, located at 1216 Aviation Blvd., suite 107-112, Gainesville.

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