Politics as usual — would be the unusual

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I read an interesting piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the other day – and yes I read it every day – that devoted quite a bit of space to the unusual fact that the Fulton County Commission will find it more difficult to approve any decisions until Jan.1.

With the untimely death of Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner and the resignation of Chairman John Eaves to run for mayor of Atlanta the Fulton County Commission has a higher threshold to pass anything.

Or as the AJC’s Ariella Kass wrote: “In Fulton County the math just got harder.”

Fulton commissioners are under an unusual restraint in that despite temporarily reduced to a 5-member board, its bylaws still require a 4-vote majority on any question put to a vote.

So until new commissioners are seated there can be no more than 1 dissenting vote (or absence) to pass a budget or any other item of county business.

Johns Creek went through a similar dearth of elected officials in 2015. The council decided to pass on a special election and wait several months for November to roll around to fill those seats then.

Roswell is down one seat now, owing to a sitting councilman resigning to run for mayor (there are five candidates in that race).

One of his opponents is a sitting councilwoman also, but happily her term ends Dec. 31 and she can keep her seat.

But the mayor only votes in case of a tie, so three votes is enough to swing a decision, which in normal times would mean the measure failed.

However, all of these political contretemps pale in comparison to the 1993 Fulton County situation in which THREE seats were open, forcing the remaining four commissioners to vote unanimously to pass any matter requiring a vote.

Every item on the agenda required unanimity. And in those not-so-long-ago days the commissioners seldom seemed to agree about much at all.

There were Atlanta interests, North Fulton interests, and South Fulton interests.

On top of that, there were race issues as a new black majority was seen by whites in Sandy Springs and North Fulton as giving these white enclaves short shrift in terms of county resources.

Fulton Commission Chairman Michael Lomax got the ball rolling in 1993 when he resigned to run for the open seat of mayor of Atlanta. Fulton Commissioner Marty King also resigned to run for mayor as well. (Both would lose to former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson.)

Redistricting that year was doing away with one of the county’s at-large seats to form a single North Fulton District 2 seat. (Today it has been divided again into seats 1 and 2.)

In 1993 North Fulton Commissioner Milton Carl Farris held that at-large seat but instead resigned to run for the one remaining at-large seat.

With a second North Fulton seat in the bag, Farris was running for the last remaining at-large seat held by Michael Hightower.

Farris’ plan to join with Sandy Springs state legislator Mitch Skandalakis who ran for and won the chairmanship and newly formed North Fulton District (won by Robert E. “Bob” Fulton) and sitting Sandy Springs Commissioner Tom Lowe.

This would swing the balance of power away from Atlanta to the emerging North Fulton.

In that smoldering political cauldron, the four-member commission consisting of Emma Darnell, Nancy Boxill, Gordon Joyner and Lowe had three months of wary cooperation.

In the end, Farris lost and Skandalakis won. The Fulton Commission broke along racial lines with whites Skandalakis, Lowe and Fulton in the minority.

Today cityhood in North Fulton has reduced much of the friction between residents north of Atlanta and the rest of the county.

There are large Asian and South Asian communities in North Fulton which has leavened the cultural and racial mix as well.

There were a die-hard calls for creation of a Milton County, but the autonomy residents sought by being rid of Fulton County oversight has since been achieved by the creation of new cities with local city councils now in charge of most things.

Only Commissioner Darnell remains from those days of political discord. The bones residents have to pick with elected officials are mostly with local elected officials now.


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