Wanted: County commissioner wholl keep the job when he or she gets it.
Mark Devoti, who stepped down Friday from the Columbia County Commission, is headed to Virginia for a better job. His predecessor, Barry Fleming, resigned mid-term to run for the Legislature. Before Fleming, Lee Brooks quit the seat and moved to Tennessee.
Devoti has been a good, solid commissioner, but hes held the seat for just a year. He was elected to District 3 last Sept-ember; it became District 4 in January when the Com-mission changed from five district-elected commissioners to one with four commissioners and a countywide elected chairman.
All that change, and the mid-term departures of his predecessors, is a real shame for the citizens of District 4, which sprawls across Grove-town, Harlem and Appling. Under the best conditions, many citizens dont know who their commissioners are; a young woman at last Tuesdays sales-tax meeting admitted she had no idea who represents her.
At least if she lived in District 4, shed have a good excuse.
Likely candidates for the Nov. 4 special election to fill the remaining year of Devotis unexpired term - which is really the last year of Flemings unexpired term, but in the new District 4 - are Peggy Lichtenberg and Grovetown City Councilman George James. Other names being floated include Rosa Lee Owens, Sam Jones and Lee Anderson.
Last September, Lichten-berg came in third in a three-way race with Devoti and Tony Mundy. Devoti then beat Mundy in the runoff. Mundy says he wont run again. Lichtenberg says she will, but faces the same problem as last time: She doesnt live in the district.
Mundy challenged Licht-enbergs residency last year, but the elections board ruled she was qualified to run because she intended to live in the district. At the time she said she planned to move into a renovated Grovetown mansion by the end of 2002.
She didnt. She still lives in West Lake, and in spite of well-respected philanthropy and thriving equine businesses, Lichtenberg still lacks credibility as a District 4 candidate.
James, meanwhile, is lining up important support - including Devoti and Grovetown Mayor Dennis Trudeau, who beat James in the mayoral election four years ago - and will be tough for Lichtenberg or anyone to beat. Better still, we already know where he lives, and hes not planning to move.
Incidentally, Columbia County Probate Judge Pat Hardaway jokes that Grove-towns mayor may be to blame for the lack of longevity for District 4 county commissioners: Trudeau just works them too hard.
What isnt a joke for Hardaway, though, is complete lack of work in renovating Columbia Countys Appling Courthouse.
In 1998, voters approved a bond referendum for construction of the new Justice Center in Evans and additions to the Detention Center in Appling. That referendum included $500,000 for renovations to the Appling Courthouse, the oldest courthouse in Georgia still in use.
The Justice Center has been open for more than a year, and inmates are lounging in orange jumpsuits in the Appling jail. But the historic courthouse hasnt been touched yet. Five years since the bond referendum passed, the county has now solicited proposals for renovations. The deadline for those proposals is Oct. 16, so maybe after that the county can get cracking on living up to voters wishes.
Before those proposals are even opened, though, there will be a first-hand look at the current condition of the old courthouse: Augusta Judicial Circuit Chief Judge William Fleming has called for a session of court to be held in Appling Oct. 8.
Maybe thats a good time to put the lack of progress on trial.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to bpaschal at newstimesonline.com.)
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