By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
The lead plaintiff in the suit and others supporting the abolition of Virginia Beach’s hybrid system of electing council and school board hope the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals does not overturn a lower court order issued last year which abolishes it.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond recently heard oral arguments from lawyers for the city seeking to persuade the judges to maintain the old system.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs seeking to abolish it also made their points before the jurists.
According to Roy Perry Bey, who helped engineer the suit calling for its abolition, and Latasha Ho0lloway one of the lead plaintiffs, the court could rule within the next 30 days.
Georgia Allen, a former Virginia Beach NAACP leader, is also a plaintiff in the suit to abolish the city’s election system which has been in place since 1966 when the city was first formed.
The plaintiffs say that the city’s defense that the old hybrid system of electing council did not deter Blacks and other minority groups from electing people of their choice was flawed.
Apart from deterring minorities from electing people of their choice, only once during a city election, recently, was an African American re-elected to council: Sabrina Wooten in the Centerville District.
But city leaders, including Mayor Bobby Dyer, watched the competing oral arguments before the Appeals Court in Richmond during the recent council retreat.
The city appealed the ruling by Norfolk Federal District Court Judge Raymond Jackson last spring, contending that the city’s case failed to prove that minorities’ voting rights were diluted.
At the same time, in accordance with a court order, city officials have been busily preparing for the implementation of 10 new constitutionally drawn voting districts ordered by Judge Jackson to be created.
Most residents have received a postcard in the mail offering details.
During the recent retreat, council members discussed how the new system would work and impact the exercise of city business.
The 10 districts were drawn by two special masters late last year, and approved by the lower federal court in Norfolk.
The plan calls for two majority Black districts. Another, using a coalition of Black and other minority voters could elect a third representative from racial groups which were impacted by the old system.
Perry-Bey said that not only should the lower federal court ruling stands; but also, legislation passed by the General Assembly last year, abolished such hybrid systems. He hopes the new system will be imposed in time for the next round of municipal election for mayor and council.
A change in state law based on legislation sponsored by Delegate Kelly Convirs-Fowler passed last year will prevent the city from returning to an all at-large voting system. But if the city wins the appeal, the City Council could redesign the voting system and include a few at-large sears.
“The old system caused the discriminatory effect we have seen since 1966. Now it is time for the city to educate people about the new system, so they will be ready for the next election.
Perry Bey said he is confident the Court will uphold “the district court’s decision that the Moor, ‘African’, so-called Black, Hispanic, and Asian communities’ coalitions have a right to elect their candidates of choice.”
Holloway, a single parent who is a native of Virginia Beach filed the suit which abolished the old system. She also is running to replace Mayor Dyer.
Further, she is leading a petition drive to have the mayor removed for alleged malfeasance and misappropriation of funds.
“I am really confident the Fourth Circuit will not overturn Judge Jackson’s order,” said Holloway. “This will not only help us get rid of that old racist system, but it will also help us get rid of the current mayor and his cronies who have been running the city.”
She said that the local court has approved the petition for circulation and she and her supporters are seeking to collect at least 10,000 signatures
Holloway said that during her campaign for Mayor she has discovered many white people who were not aware “that the old system not only impacted Blacks but for them as well. I am confident the appeals court will agree with us, so it will be a new day in Virginia Beach for all people.”