by Bernie O'Donnell, 13WMAZ.com
- Georgia's general assembly voted this year to set Macon-Bibb County elections in July and make them non-partisan.
- The Dept. of Justice suspended the elections and demanded more information about the process that led to that change.
- Bibb County officials have responded threatening a lawsuit if the DOJ doesn't provide an answer by next Monday.
Bibb County officials are asking the Department of Justicefor an answer soon on whether they'll allow nonpartisan elections in the county.
If there's no answer by next Monday, the county's threatening to go to federal court to make sure they can hold an election this year.
The issue is whether or not candidates in the new consolidated government will run as Republicans or Democrats and when those elections can be held.
The general assembly this winter voted to take away the party labels and schedule the election for July.
Last month, the Justice Departmentput those changes on hold until the county answers questions about how that decision was made and why.
County Attorney Virgil Adams says he submitted his response Friday to the U-S Department of Justice.
It says Bibb County's Republican legislators felt they had no choice under state law to setting the election in July.
And they said they made the elections nonpartisan to cut costs and because Macon and Bibb had the state's only local party elections.
Adams' letter asks the federal officials for an answer by June 17 or they may ask a judge to allow them to hold the election.
Adams wrote that he was asking the Department of Justice to rule, by next Monday, "in order to provide the Bibb County Board of Elections adequate time to implement procedures for a November election that may or may not require a primary depending on your decision.
"Time is of the essence," he wrote. "This will avoid putting us in the position of having to seek immediate relief in federal court in order to insure that we have timely elections."
Also in the county's response:
- The bill was actually drafted by a legislative counsel, who believed that state law required that nonpartisan elections for consolidated government should be held in July. However, that 2012 law was never cleared by the federal agency and is unenforceable, Adams wrote.
- State Sen. Cecil Staton and Rep. Allen Peake, both Macon Republicans, said they received emails from Bibb County business leaders and constituents requesting nonpartisan elections, but could not provide copies.
- "There was no formal procedure" for getting comment from other Bibb elected officials and no formal meetings scheduled for discussing the changes.
- The delegation held hearings in Bibb County before filing the 2012 bill that consolidated the city and county. But there were no notes and minutes from those meetings.
- The legislators involved "strongly deny" that there was any racial reason for making the changes.
- The letter notes that representatives Nikki Randall and James Beverly opposed introducing the 2013 bill that called for nonpartisan elections.
- It also lists Bibb officials who had "informal' talks about the issue: a school board member who was recently elected to the county commission -- apparently Gary Bechtel; one sitting commissioner; one city council member; one school board member; and Mayor Robert Reichert.
- And Adams concludes, "We have attempted...to adequately and accurately respond to your questions and concerns as best we can and provide all information which is available. At this time, we have no additional information to provide..."