ATLANTA (AP) — Republicans are putting on hold plans to overhaul the county commission and school board in Georgia’s second most-populous county after opponents said their plans were trampling local wishes and legislative rules.
Sen. Clint Dixon, a Buford Republican, said Tuesday he wants to study the issues and seek more input on his proposals to add five new members to the all-Democratic Gwinnett County Commission and to change county school board elections from partisan to nonpartisan. Both measures would have also redrawn electoral district lines for the officials for the next 10 years. Dixon said he’s now aiming to return in the regular session in January with a proposal to make all school boards elected by party nonpartisan.
“We’re going to take some time,” Dixon said. “We’re going to create a study committee. We’re going to hold some hearings.”
Dixon repeatedly said that Republicans pushing the moves had plenty of support and a “clear path” to passage in the special session, which is likely to wrap up within the next week. But Sam Park, a Lawrenceville Democrat who chairs the Gwinnett House delegation, credited the reversal to “the outcry this caused with Gwinnett voters,” saying he had received hundreds of emails from unhappy constituents.
He also said that it appeared Republican leaders had decided to take a step back, amid claims that the GOP was trying to grab power in what has shifted to a majority-Democratic county and that Republicans were violating legislative rules by passing a local bill against the wishes of a majority of local lawmakers. Normally, a majority of Gwinnett senators would have to sign a bill for it to advance in the state Senate. Republicans had said the bill was being treated as a statewide bill for purposes of the legislative process, but as a local bill for purposes of Gov. Brian Kemp’s special session call, which restricts most statewide legislation from being considered.
“I think they did take seriously my concerns that they may have been in violation of either Senate rules or the governor’s proclamation,” Park said.
Republicans said both measures would improve governance. They argued that the Gwinnett commission needs more members because the Atlanta suburb has grown to nearly 1 million people. They also said party politics could lead to harmful effects on the school system, such as the introduction of critical race theory, an academic framework that centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people. In recent months, it has become a catch-all political buzzword for any teaching in schools about race and American history. Gwinnett school officials say the district does not teach anything harmful.
Park said that with Republicans curbing their special session push, he’s willing to discuss changes to the school board and county commission.
“Certainly there will be an opportunity to discuss increasing the number of seats so that all Gwinnett’s voters have their voices heard,” Park said. “Of course, we also want to be mindful that we are working with our local elected officials.”