The people have spoken.
Now, so have Columbia Countys lawmakers.
This past week, with the construction of the new Evans courthouse annex as their backdrop, the countys legislative delegation announced their intent to strictly follow last Novembers non-binding referendum by switching to a countywide elected chairman for the County Commission, and reducing the number of district-elected commissioners from five to four.
Though noisy and dusty, the courthouse venue was calculated to drive home a point: It was also in a straw poll that voters chose the location of the new courthouse. Lawmakers wanted to make it clear that they intend to abide by the non-binding results of the chairman/CEO vote, just as county commissioners selected the Evans location for the new courthouse in response to voters expressed wishes.
However, the press conference location also provided an unintended reminder that the debate over adding an elected Commission chairman flared up during negotiations for the design of that courthouse, when some elected officials clashed with the countys appointed administrator. The long-term effect of those squabbles, then, is a pending fix to a government that isnt broken.
Thats all in the past now. After enduring criticism from what they call persistent naysayers - including this newspaper - state Sen. Joey Brush and state Reps. Ben Harbin and Bill Jackson express unanimity in their intent to change the countys government, basing their solidarity on a belief that the voters have made their wishes clear.
The three promise that, during upcoming pre-legislative meetings with county officials and residents, the proposed four-commissioner map recently approved by commissioners will finally be open to public review. Then, in next springs session of the Georgia Legislature, lawmakers will reduce the number of commissioners from five to four, and allow county voters to elect a Commission chairman next fall.
This is really the best of both worlds, says Jackson, who 20 years ago pushed through legislation to abolish the at-large elected chairman and replace the post with one chosen by commissioners from among their ranks. Reverting to an at-large chairman is a response to changing times, Jackson believes.
Will the change produce better government? The only way to know is through trial and error. The Chairman/CEO Task Force created to study the issue recommended keeping the five commissioners and adding the elected chairman as a part-time post.
Those recommendations were well-researched and thoughtful, but well never know if that setup would have worked any better than the four-plus-one system lawmakers will create.
One thing is certain: By pledging to follow what they believe is an expression of the electorate, lawmakers will be able to sidestep the blame for any problems the new system creates. That, along with the responsibility for selecting public servants willing to use their judgment, ultimately falls to the voters.
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