A Victory for the Common People


   It was an issue that was crucial to the people living in Brookwood Subdivision and along Claxton Dairy Road.  While the political wrangling involved a technicality and pure partisan politics on the other, the annexation of a small tract of land on the outskirts of Dublin came to a culmination on the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives.  The contentions between the developer of a skating rink and the members of a suburban neighborhood resulted in the first and most overwhelming overriding of a governor's veto since the days of Reconstruction.

     It all began when a Laurens County man bought a tract of land along Claxton Dairy Road and north of its intersection with Brookwood Drive.  It was announced that the new owner would build a skating rink on the property, which he purchased from David Mercer, a Dublin attorney, developer, and businessman.    Some five hundred people affixed their signatures to a petition to halt the construction of the recreation spot, which they feared would diminish the valuation of their residential properties.   Some dreaded the elevated influx of automobiles along the approaches to the skating rink.  Still, others feared the inevitable shenanigans that might arise in such a place.  Conversely, a well-managed skating rink would have been a wonderful place for the families of Dublin to spend a Saturday afternoon or a school vacation day.

     The most vocal opponents petitioned the Laurens County Commission to stop the process. The commission acceded to their request, but their resolution was fruitless without the power of zoning, which the county did not have.  The only governmental organization in the county with the power to regulate the establishment of businesses was the City of Dublin.  The residents of the area approached the Dublin City Council, which voted to ask State Representative W.W. (Wash) Larsen to introduce a bill in the Georgia legislature to annex the property into the city and effectively kill any plans for the wretched rink. The annexation notice was advertised in the paper, the validity of which would later come into question.     

  That is when W.W. "Wash" Larsen took the ball.  Larsen, a former district attorney, and a well-skilled trial lawyer,  began researching the law.  The multi-faceted, brilliant-minded Larsen looked into the pertinent law and more importantly into the parliamentary rules of the House of Representatives. 

     In those days and pretty much at all times, state legislatures routinely adopt local and special legislation, which comes with the overall support of the local delegation and the affected local governments.  Only in rare circumstances is such legislation not approved.  This was the case near the end of the 1973 legislative session when Larsen's bill was approved by both houses of the legislature.
     On April 9, 1973, after the session of the legislature had ended, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter announced his veto of the legislation. Gov. Carter, in writing a letter to Dublin Mayor Lester Porter, defended his decision which was based on the fact that the legislation was technically flawed in that the proper publication of the notice was not done according to Georgia law and that the owners of the annexed property were not properly notified.  Carter took offense to Mayor Porter's letter questioning his decision as "an insult to me and the office, and which was apparently based on ignorance of the responsibilities of a Governor."  Governor Carter condemned what he saw as "spot zoning" and urged Mayor Porter and the council to comply with the applicable state statutes in any future annexation requests.

     Porter responded by stating that he and the council " are not ignorant of the responsibilities of the Governor's office."  Porter commented that the House and Senate sided with the local government and that he, Governor Carter, voted against the will of the people.   Rep. Larsen was much more livid.  He was upset that the Governor did not offer him the courtesy of conferring with him before taking the action, which he claimed was done in support of David Mercer, the Governor's local campaign manager in the 1970 gubernatorial election.  Porter echoed Larsen's statements by saying, "The theory is widely held here that some of your local advisors have involved you in their dreams of profit-making at the expense of some of the local residents."

     David Mercer quickly responded to the accusations by stating, "I am flattered to know that some people think that I have that kind of influence over a governor of the State of Georgia."  Mercer further contended that the public notice of the annexation was flawed in that Larsen unethically slipped the skating rink property into an annexation bill already pending in the legislature and in deference to the three-week advertising requirement before the end of the session.  Mercer offered to repurchase the property, despite the owner's plans to proceed with the project.

     For the next nine months, the issue simmered in the minds of the people of Dublin.   Despite the fact that there was nothing to stop the construction of the skating rink, not a single board was put up. Larsen examined other annexation requests in Dublin and throughout the state and found that the public notices rarely contained complete legal descriptions of the property involved.  As a matter of fact, Gov. Carter had never turned down a local annexation request because of similar faulty procedures.  Rep. Larsen,  who scrutinized the legislative manuals and the Georgia code, discovered a way to put the matter back in the hands of the legislature, and consequently, back in the hands of the people of his district.    Larsen discovered that he was entitled to bring a motion to override the veto before the legislature on the first day of the succeeding legislative session.  Rep. Larsen asked for and was granted permission to address the lawmakers.  "Normally, the governor has messengers present during the session, who will run to the governor's office if something unusual or contrary to the governor's interests comes before the house," Larsen recalled.   Just when Rep. Larsen discovered that the governor's floor leader wasn't present, he asked the Speaker to be recognized. "The key to the whole thing was getting the floor when the floor leader wasn't there and doing it and doing it fast," Larsen said.  The representative took the well of the House to arraign the Governor for ignoring the will of the people of Dublin and Laurens County.  Larsen explained the whole process was an affront to political courtesy to Dublin and Laurens County, as well as himself because he learned of the veto through the news media instead of a direct communication from the Governor himself. 


   When the roll was called, the motion to override the veto passed by a vote of 146 to one.  The sole dissenter was Rep. W.H. Alexander of Atlanta.   On the following day, Sen. Hugh Gillis, also representing Laurens County, made a motion to override Carter's veto.  The motion passed unanimously, 40 to zero.   Carter's floor leader, Denmark Groover, admitted Carter's mistake.  Carter, while calling Larsen's allegations "asinine," wrote every member of the legislature stating that "I have no personal interest in the matter," and that he would like to work with Larsen and the city to ensure proper passage of the matter.  What the Governor failed to comprehend was that the action taken by the legislature made any further action moot.  The annexation bill had become the law of Georgia.

     What was of lasting significance in the entire affair was that it was unprecedented in the history of Georgia.  It was the only time since Reconstruction that a Georgia legislature, comprised primarily of the same party as the Governor, had overridden a veto.