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Politicians are rarely on the cutting edge of governmental change. After all, if theyre in office, that means theyre on the winning team. And since when do winners in any competition suggest changing the rules?
It took a tremendous amount of foresight, then, when Columbia County officials began working on a plan to shake up county government, taking away district-elected commissioners authority to select the County Commission chairman and giving that task to voters countywide.
There was tremendous skepticism about the effort, but most agreed voters knew what they were doing when they approved such a change in a July 2000 non-binding poll.
A task force set up by county commissioners recommended keeping five district-elected commissioners and adding an at-large chairman; legislators instead adopted a plan with four commissioners and an at-large chairman.
Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross won the Aug. 20, 2002 Republican Party primary for the new post. No Democrat sought the post, so the primary results put Cross in office.
Its important to remember this history as Columbia County school officials and lawmakers debate the possible switch to an at-large elected school board chairman.
That Republican primary also included 12 straw-poll questions placed on the ballot by then-GOP Chairman Alvin Starks. Starks wanted to boost interest in the election, and it worked; turnout in Co-lumbia County was nearly 30 percent higher than the state average.
While no one questions the legitimacy of Cross election, some politicians continue to dismiss the validity of the results of the straw poll in which voters said theyd like to elect the school board chairman.
In a barely attended forum last week, members of a task force that studied the school board chairmanship dismissed the vote. They said voters didnt know what they were doing when they OKd the question, which they believed was rigged to elicit a yes vote. (May-be that explains why a majority of the task force say they voted for it!)
Those members now say theyre all for letting voters have another crack at the question - only they want to educate them first.
What task force members really mean is that if voters were as smart as they are, surely theyd agree that the county doesnt need an elected school board chairman. In fact, if voters had the learned perspective of the task force, they too would want to grow the school board by two members, and let trustees keep picking their own chairman.
This newspaper has endorsed a lot of candidates and issues over the years. Its gratifying that voters have agreed with most of those choices, including the endorsement of every sitting member of the current school board who has faced an opponent.
Never would we be so arrogant as to suggest voters who disagree with our recommendations arent as smart as we are. Yet one member of the task force even had the chutzpah to suggest voters are suffering a remorseful hangover - I think the majority of people who voted for that are now going, "That was a bad question, he claimed.
State Sen. Joey Brush firmly disagrees. I think they understand what they voted for, Brush says. Im willing to trust the people.
Some 9,600 voters - 85 percent of those voting in that straw poll - say they want to elect the school board chairman. Are they stupid just because two dozen task force members and trustees disagree?
We trust the people, too.
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