When Columbia County Republican Party Chairman Alvin Starks placed 12 voter questions on the primary ballot, it was with the understanding that the poll would help draw voters to the ballot box, and the answers would provide fodder for later political discussions.
Mission accomplished. On the strength of Starks questions, 28 percent of the countys electorate went to the polls - far better than the 20 percent turnout statewide.
It is the first question that promises to rouse the most discussion: Are you in favor of having the chairman of the Columbia County Board of Education elected by countywide vote?
Simple. Direct. Just a straight-up question asking voters in the Republican primary how they feel about the direction of a part of their local government - a segment that consumes two-thirds of local tax dollars.
The answer is just as direct. With the second-highest margin of any question on the ballot, more than 85 percent of the Republican primary voters emphatically say they want the opportunity to vote for the chairman of the school board.
The timing is significant: Those voters, on that same ballot, were selecting the winner in the race for the newly created position of countywide elected County Commission chairman. No one can plausibly argue that Ron Cross election is invalid simply because there was no Democratic opponent in the chairmanship race. Thus, Cross will take office in January without challenge to the validity of a Republican-only election.
Members of Columbia Countys Board of Education seem to be having a difficult time getting the message. Or maybe theyre just in denial. The trustees have been on record since last December unanimously opposing the election of the board chairman; they prefer the chairman continue to be selected from among district-elected trustees by a vote of the board.
Not even such a clear signal from their constituents sways their view. I think the questions were worded to lend themselves to a "yes vote, complains the current chairman, Wayne Bridges. Hes right on some questions - but not this one.
I dont think that straw poll was necessarily indicative of the feelings of our county, says Trustee Roxanne Whitaker. Really? Maybe she should talk to her neighbors. Republican primary voters in pre-cincts in Whitakers District 3 fav-ored the proposition with margins ranging from 82 percent to 92 percent. That looks pretty indicative.
While the validity of the results of the non-binding question is inescapable, a new question arises: What happens next?
Heres what should happen. Trustees may have to be dragged kicking and screaming into entertaining the idea, but state Rep. Ben Harbin urges the board to follow the lead of the County Commission by appointing a task force that could begin studying a possible switch to an elected chairman.
Even better, theyd be following the lead of Columbia Countys voters. If they fail to do so, those same voters surely will let them know just how valid their opinions really are.
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