Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Deke Weasels Out On Redistricting

Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012
Augusta, GA

It appears as though Mayor Deke Copenhaver has backed out on a pledge to sign off on a letter of support for the redistricting 3 R map that was unanimously approved by the ad-hoc redistricting committee back in November, that later failed to win the support of the full commission when two of the redistricting committee members (Jerry Brigham and Grady Smith) changed their minds and voted against the map at the Dec. 6th commission meeting. That vote resulted in a tie, but Mayor Copenhaver was on vacation at the time so the motion failed by default

The Mayor later said that if he had been at the December 6th Commission meeting he would have broke the tie in favor of approving the redistricting 3-R map. It all seemed a little too convenient at the time and once again gave Deke an easy out. He never made his position on redistricting public until after the vote failed in the commission because he was not there to break the tie. There was some speculation that Deke's absence was orchestrated allowing him to once again dodge making a controversial tie-breaking vote.

But after hearing news that the Mayor would have supported the redistricting map if he had been at the Dec. 6 meeting, which would have resulted in its approval, Commissioner Alvin Mason asked for a do-over vote at the Dec. 20th commission meeting when Deke would be present to cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of the  map. But not surprisingly the Mayor was denied the opportunity to  break a tie this time when commissioners Jerry Brigham and Grady Smith played the abstention card, defeating the motion yet again by default. But this outcome would not satisfy Alvin Mason. He asked for the Mayor to sign a letter of support for the redistricting map that would then be forwarded to the Georgia General Assembly and to The US Justice Department. The Mayor agreed to  do this. 

But in the end it appears that was only talk. Now Commissioner Jerry Brigham and School Board member Jack Padgett are trying to defeat the redistricting map that they previously voted to approve in the ad-hoc committee.

They have turned to Jesse Stone and Barbara Sims of the local delegation to halt progress of the map in the legislature and to draw up a new one that would retain the 5-5 racial balance on the commission and school board.

Now the mayor seems to have flip-flopped on signing the letter of support. According to  Sylvia Cooper's Jan. 22 City Ink Column, Commissioner Mason asked for a point of privilege at last Tuesday's commission meeting, asking the Mayor to make good on his promise to sign the letter of support for the redistricting map.

 Mayor Copenhaver then responded with "I’m just sort of watching it play out. “I said I would consider that, but obviously, the commission does not have to approve the maps. The situation is changing on a regular basis. I would like to see the delegation get their act together.” 

It was a typical Deke non-answer. The entire point of the letter was to show the delegation that he supported the map and that would in turn help its passage in the legislature. It was an opportunity for Deke to demonstrate leadership and once again he retreated.

Then Commissioner Mason responded by saying: You are elected by the entire city. The community kind of wanted to see where you stood on this particular issue. It was our hope the letter would be drafted.”

All of this should be of no big surprise to Commissioner Mason. It simply reinforces what many people previously thought; that Deke was merely acting out a role of political theater on the redistricting map and his promise to support it was hollow from the beginning. It's not the first time Deke has weaseled out of making a controversial decision and showing some real leadership. 

Now redistricting is in limbo and still no one is sure what the district maps will look like for local elections this fall. It's particularly troublesome for potential candidates who may not end up even living in the districts they intend to run in. Some leadership from the Mayor could have helped settle this issue. At first, it seemed as though the Mayor was willing to step up to the plate and bring everyone together on the compromise redistricting map. That appears to have been wishful thinking. ***

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