A decision to dedicate a day to former State Sen. Fran Millar has some residents in the Dunwoody community pushing back.
During an Aug. 2 ceremony at Dunwoody City Hall, city and state officials gathered to celebrate the naming of the stretch of I-285 from exit 30 in DeKalb County to the Fulton County line “Sen. Fran Millar Highway.” The name change occurred through a Georgia General Assembly-passed resolution that was cosponsored by four Democratic state senators. In addition to the state-passed resolution, the city of Dunwoody declared Aug. 2 “Sen. Fran Millar Day.”
Following the ceremony, the city posted photos from the event on Facebook, where most of the response to the resolution was positive. However, some residents took to Twitter to voice disappointment over the decision to honor the former state senator, calling out some of Millar’s previous comments about early voting.
“As a 28-year resident of #Dunwoody, I’ve never been more ashamed than when y’all named a stretch of highway for Jim Crow politico Fran Millar and declared Aug. 2 ‘Sen Fran Millar Day,’” tweeted Gary Ray Betz on Aug. 4.
In 2014, Millar received criticism for comments insinuating he opposed expanding voting hours because it would primarily benefit Black voters, covered by publications including The Washington Post. When a county official decided to allow for Sunday voting at a local mall, the then state senator took to Facebook.
“Now we are to have Sunday voting at South DeKalb Mall just prior to the election,” wrote Millar on Facebook in 2014. “Per Jim Galloway of the AJC, this location is dominated by African American shoppers and it is near several large African American mega churches such as New Birth Missionary Baptist. Galloway also points out the Democratic Party thinks this is a wonderful idea – what a surprise.”
In a comment on the original post, Millar then said he would prefer more educated voters than more voters in general.
“I would prefer more educated voters than a greater increase in the number of voters,” he wrote. “If you don’t believe this is an efort [sic] to maximize Democratic votes pure and simple, then you are not a realist.”
During an Aug. 23 Dunwoody City Council meeting, Dunwoody resident Joe Hirsch spoke out against the decision to honor Millar, and stated he felt that the mayor and council were not responding to residents’ concerns.
“You’re so quick to respond to people on Facebook when you get … accolades, which you deserve, for helping people,” he said. “But when a resident has asked you twenty times at least … and you don’t even acknowledge or respond to a person?”
A Twitter account called “Dunwoody Community” tagged the mayor in a tweet on Aug. 4 asking for her to respond to Betz’s original tweet. As of Aug. 26, Betz’s tweet has received over 60 retweets and over 90 likes. A spokesperson for the city said the city was aware of the tweet, but has not received any emails on the subject from residents.
Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch declined to comment on the matter. A city spokesperson pointed to the fact that the legislation to name the stretch of highway after Millar was initiated and supported by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
Four Democratic state senators, including Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler (D-Stone Mountain), supported the legislation. State Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) said she cosponsored the legislation out of a sense of respect for Millar’s long career.
“Certainly, Senator Millar and I disagreed on many things, including early voting access,” Parent said in an emailed statement. “But we also worked together on initiatives. I co-sponsored the resolution out of respect for his decades of service and out of a sense of comity.”
Butler and the other Democratic cosponsors, State Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) and State Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale), did not respond to a request for comment.
Betz also spoke at the City Council meeting, and said he has never been more “ashamed” to be from Dunwoody.
“It was nationally publicized, and I’m sure you’re all aware of it,” he said. “Why have a Fran Millar Day? There are more deserving folks in Dunwoody.”
In an emailed statement to Reporter Newspapers, Millar said his comments in 2014 were taken out of context, and that his major concern was allowing early voting in only Democratic precincts.
“I complained about early voting in only 3 majority Democratic precincts and DeKalb changed the selected locations,” Millar said. “Fulton had early voting throughout the county. Furthermore I opposed Sunday voting because people can be influenced by preacher recommendations from the pulpit – from the preacher to the bus to the polls.”
Millar further said that he quoted Jim Galloway of the AJC in his Facebook post. He also brought up his award from the DeKalb NAACP for his role in removing Confederate symbols from the Georgia state flag.
“I would still prefer more educated, or if you like informed, voters than an increase in the number of voters,” he said.
The issue of voting access has been a hot-button topic in Georgia, particularly after former President Donald Trump’s false claims of voter fraud and Georgia’s new voting bill, which Gov. Brian Kemp signed on March 25 and critics say will negatively impact the ability of minority residents to vote.
In an interview with Reporter Newspapers, Betz said he didn’t understand why the city would honor Millar when the country is so divided over the issue of voter suppression.
“Even though that’s 2014, it could have been two days ago,” Betz said in an interview with Reporter Newspapers. “Where is the respect for Dunwoody’s Black residents?”