Columbia Countys lawmakers have put into writing all the talk about changing the countys government.
State Sen. Joey Brush, R-Appling, dropped Senate Bill 431 into the hopper last week. Gov. Roy Barnes could soon be signing into law significant changes in the way Columbia County voters elect their local leaders, and in the way those leaders govern.
And remember: It all started with a non-binding vote in 2000. Two years later, Columbia Countys government will change to reflect those voters opinions.
Are the changes really that big? Yes, and no.
Currently, the chairman is picked from among, and by, fellow commissioners, and most of his duties are by tradition. With Brushs bill, the chairman is elected county-wide and his authority is spelled out, delivering what Brush describes as a good balance of powers.
According to the bill, the chairman:
conducts all Commis-sion meetings;
prepares and presents the agenda for each meeting, and sees to it that records are properly maintained;
appoints committee chairmen;
nominates the county administrator, with ratification by commissioners;
represents the county for official functions, or arran-ges for a substitute; and,
executes county contracts and agreements.
Pretty simple. It has to be: The new chairman will have greater duties, must run for office from a bigger area - and will get paid no more than the current chairman.
The boosters of the change to an elected chairman say they want an authority figure who doesnt just cut ribbons and kiss babies. Yet the duties spelled out in Brushs bill, when measured against the reality of the token pay ($10,500 per year), mean Columbia County may not get much more than ribbon-cutting baby-kisser.
As with most offices, it will be a function of the office-holder to determine how the post works. The bill isnt bad enough to hurt a good leader, and it isnt good enough to elevate a bad one.
The election for chairman will be in November, after primaries in August. Who will be on the ballot?
Current Chairman Barry Fleming still hasnt said whether hell run for the chairmanship or for the House seat being vacated by state Rep. Bill Jackson. Im betting hell run for the Legislature.
County Commissioner Jim Whitehead, who says he isnt running for re-election, is getting his arm twisted to run for the chairmanship. He probably wont.
County Commissioner Frank Spears is deciding between running for re-election (an easy win); running for chairman (an uphill fight); or not running at all (highly unlikely).
Charles Allen, a former county commissioner and husband of Tax Commis-sioner Kay Allen, served on the CEO/Chairman Task Force and has said he wants the job.
Builder Ron Cross is exploring a run as an independent.
A move is afoot to draft former County Commission Chairman Pete Brodie to run. If this happens, well hear a chorus of I-told-you-sos from those who contended the chairman post was being designed with Brodie in mind. It wasnt, but we wont let the truth get in the way of a good conspiracy theory.
But the biggest surprise on that Novem-ber ballot could be an idea first launched here in my column. State Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, is proposing a ballot question to see if voters also want to elect the school board chairman county-wide.
The question would be non-binding - just like the vote that led to the very much binding new law that will establish a county-wide Commission chairman.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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