For Columbia County residents trying to keep an eye on the sensitive issue of restructuring the county government, recent events may have sneaked up on them.
Georgias Democratic lawmakers have rightly been blasted for backroom deals to redrew the states legislative map. But at least legislators held hearings to give the pretense of citizen input; Columbia Countys elected Republicans havent given their own constituents even that opportunity.
This finally changes Monday night at the Appling Courthouse, when the countys CEO Task Force discusses possible changes to county government.
Some history: This started in late 1999 when local state legislators hatched the idea of allowing voters to elect the County Commission chairman - a county CEO - rather than letting the five members of the Commission choose a chairman from among themselves.
After a rocky start, the plan gained momentum with the appointment of the CEO Task Force to study not just changing the chairmanship, but also restructuring the county government.
The Task Force recommended keeping five commissioners while allowing voters to elect the Commission chairman. But instead of a full-time CEO, the Task Force recommended a part-time post.
In a November 2000 non-binding referendum, voters gave lopsided approval to electing the chairman, but by a much narrower margin favored reducing the Commission to four members.
Since those conflicting opinions nearly a year ago, implementation of neither the Task Force recommendations nor the voters suggestions have moved forward. Ed Rees, chairman of the Task Force, re-activated his committee this summer at the commissioners request, but then postponed any discussions while lawmakers were in Atlanta for the marathon special session on state reapportionment.
County commissioners didnt wait. With no public debate, county staff juggled neighborhoods into two maps: One maintains the current five-commissioner setup, and another redraws the county into four districts. Commissioners last week sent both to local lawmakers, without recommending either.
Reess task force has thus become the only avenue for voters to get a look at what commissioners and lawmakers have in mind. My goal is for us to draft recommendations for each scenario, rather than get bogged down in too much more debate over which option is to be preferred, says Rees, acknowledging that the issue hasnt been on the front burner.
That should change. Columbia County runs smoothly, with comparatively low taxes, few scandals and (usually) responsive government. And moves to change that government should include significant public input - and explanations from elected officials on why any change is needed in the first place.
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