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Forsyth County commission nixes requests to state legislative delegation

CUMMING — Forsyth County commissioners have decided against asking the local state legislative delegation to pursue several requests this year.

The commission made its decision in a 3-2 vote, with Todd Levent and Jim Boff opposed, during a work session last week.

The initial concept arose in response to an announcement earlier this winter by one of the lawmakers that the commission, the county’s governing body, might add a sixth member. That measure has since been withdrawn.

The commission’s requests involved pursuing other options such as: leaving the makeup of the panel as-is until after a straw poll from county voters; adding two members to void ties; or reverting back to countywide voting.

Countywide voting, which had been in place prior to 2010, was the most contentious of the possibilities. Currently, commissioners are elected by voters living within the district they represent.

Before deciding to scrap the requests, a vote on whether to keep the countywide voting request was taken, but failed 2-3, with Levent and Boff in favor.

There had previously been discussion that reverting back to countywide voting could possibly violate the voting rights act. However, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said it was his opinion that wouldn’t be an issue.

“A voting rights act claim can occur when there is a minority group that is sufficiently large and geographically compact, such that it could reasonably constitute a majority in a single member district, that the group is politically cohesive and, No. 3, that the majority — usually meaning the white majority — usually votes as a block to defeat the minorities preferred candidate,” Jarrard explained.

He said he didn’t anticipate the county’s demographics shifting enough to change the law for at least five to 15 years.

If the commission’s makeup were to change, Commissioner Brian Tam said it should be four equally populated districts with a countywide chairman.

“You have to run a census to do that, if you’re going to do four and a countywide chairman, and that’s probably what should have happened in 2010,” Tam said. “Here we are in 2016, and that’s probably what should happen in 2020-21, when they you a census.”

During the meeting, another vote was taken that would have allowed the release of emails between commissioners and Jarrard. It failed in a 2-3 vote, with Boff and Levent in favor.

Jarrard said that two other possible legislative requests, requiring a 4/5 majority to overrule the district commissioner’s decision for certain zonings in the area and removing the state-level laws that create the county’s planning board, were not going to be pursued this year by the delegation.

The change to the planning board would not have necessarily meant the dissolution of the board, only that it was created locally instead of at the state level.

The lack of action does mean the county cannot move forward with separate planning boards for each district, which had previously been discussed.