While Richmond County's quarrelsome commissioners were gathered in a group hug this past week, Columbia County's generally more genial political leaders took a turn poking sharp sticks in each other's eyes.
What's going on here? Is Columbia County, where the county commission wants to emulate Augusta's consolidation, getting a head start by learning to bicker?
It's been a long time since Columbia County politicians snarled at each other so. The last time it got this ugly, the county's fading Democrats were trying to railroad a new Republican sheriff.
Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that the current political pugilism has a partisan angle:
In this corner, County Commission Chairman Ron Cross. Elected countywide, Republican Cross believes it is in the best interest of Columbia County to incorporate and then consolidate, acquiring all the powers of a city and a county.
In the opposite corner, Grovetown Mayor Dennis Trudeau. Representing the city of Grovetown, Democrat Trudeau opposed consolidation, then agreed to support the plan when Cross promised additional sewer capacity for the growing city, then changed his mind again.
If all we had here was what some see as a power-hungry Republican at odds with a flip-flopping Democrat, partisans on neither side would be surprised. Yet there's little in this current spat between the county and the cities " Harlem officials aren't happy, either " to reassure citizens that local public officials can work together constructively.
Some Grovetown folks feel like the county blackmailed Trudeau for his on-again, off-again support " which is pretty demeaning, like saying Trudeau can be bought, but won't stay bought.
Meanwhile, it comes off as downright arrogant for Cross to assert on behalf of commissioners that Grovetown officials aren't smart enough to know a good deal when they see one if they reject the county's sweetheart promise of extra sewer capacity in return for backing consolidation.
As two sometimes-heated public meetings on the issue suggest, county officials appear to be making little headway in convincing the public to support consolidation, either.
If this debate is to become constructive, county officials should do what local lawmakers have been seeking from the start: Set up a citizens committee to study consolidation. There's no need to rush into anything, because legislators say there are no immediate plans to undo the new law that allowed the consolidation discussion in the first place.
Grovetown and Harlem should take part, as should citizens appointed by the Commission and the legislative delegation. In a less-polarized atmosphere, the committee could discuss the issue and bring a recommendation to lawmakers for eventual ratification or rejection by voters.
There will be plenty of disagreement. But there's no reason it can't be done agreeably.
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