I cant make any decisions. Im only an elected official!
- The mayor of Hallow-eentown, Nightmare Before Christmas
During a contentious meeting with local citizens a couple of years ago in Atlanta, state Reps. Bill Jackson and Ben Harbin left the room to vote in the Legislature.
On the return trip, they were crossing the street when Jackson suggested a referendum as a way out of the argument over plans for electing Columbia Countys Commission chairman.
Harbin and his fellow lawmakers brought the proposal to the group of citizens assembled in a conference room of the legislative office building, and generally calmed the waters.
Lawmakers later set up a non-binding referendum and a committee to study the idea. A Republican Party straw poll showed opposition, while a General Election poll found strong support. The committee made recommendations, then the lawmakers used some of those ideas to remake Columbia Countys government.
Ron Cross was elected in 2002 as Columbia Countys Commission chairman, and the county has a revamped government. The end.
This short history lesson gives a glimpse of Bill Jacksons ability to work as a peacemaker. The retired lawmaker this past week was named liaison between the Democrats and Republicans in the state Legislature.
Jacksons name also came up during another contentious discussion this past week, when Columbia County School Board member Roxanne Whitaker suggested Jackson - himself a former trustee - serve on a committee to study the creation of an elected School Board chairmanship.
It is one of the few ideas yet to come out of an exercise that trustees have made way too complicated. Since a Republican Party primary straw poll last summer showed citizens want to elect their School Board chairman, lawmakers have expected trustees to set up a task force to study the idea, just like the committee that studied the countys chairmanship.
After weeks of ignoring hints, trustees responded in December when lawmakers point-blank said, yes, we expect you to study the issue. Since then, the board has talked the idea to death, only agreeing on former Superin-tendent Don Thornhill as chairman of the committee.
Its paralysis by analysis: Their attorney will research the powers and duties of school board members. Whitaker has asked the Georgia State School Board Association to gather information on other systems with an elected chairman. And Trustee Lee Muns and Chairman Wayne Bridges each propose long lists of people who would then appoint other people to the committee.
Good grief. Trustees should quit dancing around and just set up the dang committee. By the time they finish wringing their hands over who can pick committee members, obtaining legal opinions and getting information, there wont be anything left for the committee to do except staple together all the paperwork.
If trustees cant quit stalling, the legislative delegation should set up the committee itself - just as it did with the one that studied the countys chairmanship. Allow each school trustee to pick one member, give each lawmaker a pick, and let each of the countys constitutional officers choose a member.
Thornhill can still serve as the chairman, and is certainly competent enough to run a study committee without having all the studying spoon-fed to him.
And if the legislative delegation is hesitant, they could turn the job over to their former colleague. Jacksons new role is as peacemaker, but at least he knows how to make a decision.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to bpaschal@ newstimesonline.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.