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1-13-05 County Commission Chair Should Be Elected by Voters

A Board can always out vote or over-rule the chairman.  However, no county needs five or seven “bosses”.  Counties with that system seem to have a limited presence outside their jurisdiction.



January 9, 2005


Commission Chair Should Be Elected by Voters


By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc.


I am a firm believer that every county should have a county-wide Chairman elected by the Voters of the County.  In many counties, commissioners represent one district or piece of the county.   There needs to be someone who represents the entire community.


The Chairman should have more authority as to being Chief Executive Officer and Chief Elected Official of a County.  Such a person has far more standing in community, regional and state matters than do board elected or rotating chairmen.


In thirty years of working with local government, I have seen some bad chairs and some bad Mayors but I believe the better way is to let the voters determine the person holding this important position.  All Governing Authorities have persons with sizable egos.  When they all have the same authority, the egos can “bump into each other”.   A county needs more definite Legislative and Executive lines of authority.


A Board can always out vote or over-rule the chairman.  However, no county needs five or seven “bosses”.  Counties with that system seem to have a limited presence outside their jurisdiction.


The following stories from Baldwin and Morgan Counties about the process of naming a board elected chairman seem to support the position of a Chair elected by the Voters.


1-8-05 Morgan BOC Struggles With Chairman Choice


The Morgan County Citizen


January 5, 2005

Bohlen takes commission helm

By Tara Mahoney

Citizens who believe that county politics are dull would have had their eyes opened wide had they been in attendance at the first regular Morgan County Commissioners meeting of 2005.

Mack Bohlen emerged the victor of the inaugural power struggle as he was named chairman after an hour of motions and debate. Commissioner Walter Butler was named vice-chairman in a surprise 3-2 vote.

The morning’s party started with a call to order by county attorney Charles Merritt, and a request that the commissioners–Walter Butler of District 1; Ricky McGinnis of District 2; Mack Bohlen of District 3; Ellen Warren Jones of District 4; and Chester Thomas of District 5–prepare to select a chairman and vice-chairman from within their ranks to serve for the 2005 calendar year.

McGinnis immediately took himself out of the running, saying that even if other commissioners flattered him by electing him to a chairmanship, he would have to decline for business reasons. But McGinnis went on to say that in the interest of transparent and open government, he believed that the election of a chairperson should be by oral polling or a show of hands, rather than secret ballot.

"I have an issue with our traditional way of electing a chairman and vice-chairman…is the method of secret ballot legally defensible?" said McGinnis. He said that even if the board voted to continue to choose a chairman by secret ballot, his vote would be public. Newly-elected Commissioner Ellen Warren Jones took the opportunity to say that she would like to have future consideration of a county-wide election of county commission chairperson, an idea which was not warmly welcomed by Butler, Bohlen, and McGinnis. Butler questioned whether or not an at-large county commission chairman could be construed to have more power than other commissioners, a concept which Butler opposed. Bohlen indicated that running for chairman on an at-large basis was a recipe for one-term representation, leading to rapid turnover on the board.

"Walton County just re-elected their county commissioner chairman, for the first time in 20 years," said Bohlen. Thomas finally suggested that the topic of at-large chairperson election be taken up at a future commissioner work session, and the commissioners finally decided, led by a motion by Bohlen, to select a chairperson by verbally polling each commissioner. In short order, Butler voted for himself, McGinnis voted for Bohlen, Bohlen voted for himself, and Jones and Thomas voted for Thomas.

Commissioners then commenced upon a lengthy discussion on how to break the 2-2 Bohlen-Thomas deadlock, with serious consideration given to throwing the two names into a hat and letting a member of the public blindly select a name.

Commissioner Jones moved quickly to attempt to put an end to that notion.

"We are conducting the people’s business," she said. "I think we need a deliberate and thoughtful process…this is too important a decision to leave to chance."

Jones then suggested selecting the chairperson based on the two candidates’ seniority on the board.

"Well, somebody’s got to blink," said Thomas, and acquiesced, after a further series of motions, to Bohlen’s ascension to the chairmanship based on Bohlen’s seniority.

Charles Merritt vacated the chairman’s seat with pleasure, and Chairman Bohlen then presided over the election of the vice-chairman of the Board of Commissioners.

"Let’s try and finish this up without anybody getting hurt," said Bohlen. He quickly polled the commissioners on their choice for vice-chairman. Again in short order, Butler voted for himself, McGinnis voted for Thomas, Bohlen voted for Butler, and Jones voted for Thomas. "Congratulations, Chester," said Bohlen.

"But you didn’t ask me how I vote," said Thomas.

"Didn’t you vote for yourself?" asked Bohlen.

"No, I’m voting for Mr. Butler," said Thomas. Thomas’s vote made Butler the vice-chairman in a 3-2 vote.

1-8-05 Baldwin BOC Fails to “Choose” Chairman


The Union-Recorder



January 5, 2005          Milledgeville, GA


Commission fails to choose chairman


Everything about the voting for the chairman position of the Baldwin County Commission seemed familiar to Collins P. Lee. He and another commissioner were nominated as chair.

But there was a difference Tuesday, when the newest commissioner Bubba Williams abstained from voting. This meant that until an election is held, Vice-chairman Dale Epps will act as the chairman, said County Attorney David Waddell.

"The election will come up at a later meeting," Waddell said. "The vice-chair will continue to serve and chair the meetings. He has the full power as chairman until that time."

Lee was nominated to be the chairman by Geneva Bell Davis after Epps first nominated Bobby Blizzard to be the chairman. This left it up to Williams to cast the deciding vote.

"I've been on duty (as a commissioner) for four days," Williams said. "I just think that all of the candidates are very qualified. I believe it would only be fair for the people who voted for me to expect me to make an informed decision. I believe after only four days of actually being in the workings of the county commission, it's premature for me to make a good informed vote. I expect to do it at the next meeting (in February). I'll have a much better grasp on things then."

It was a decision Williams knew he would have to make when he was elected last November.

"I've been processing (information about the vote), and frankly I have not had enough time for me to feel comfortable to cast my vote," he said.

Lee said he was surprised at Williams' decision.

"It's very amazing," he said. "I had talked with Bubba. He told me he didn't know which way he was going to go. He knew it was going to come down to him (for the deciding vote). ... I think it was a wise move for him. He's getting his feet wet now. Whatever he decides will be fine with me. I'm going to work with him regardless. ... I was very surprised that he abstained from voting."

Blizzard also was surprised.

"I understand Mr. Williams is new and he has his reasons for doing what he did," he said. "I'm sure it will work out."

Blizzard said the vote confirms what he thinks about the current voting system for the chairman of the commission. He said this is the type of situation that would be avoided if voters were allowed to vote for chairman.

"If the public would have (had the chance) to elect the chairman during the last election, we would have known who the chairman was going to be tonight before we came to the meeting," Blizzard said. "Surely you picked up some of the animosity up there between us. We don't need all of that. We should let the public choose our chairman."

Williams and Lee agreed.

"It something for consideration," Lee said. "You know we could also rotate it. There is nothing wrong with that as long as you abide that that's what you're going to do. We had said in 1996 that we were going to rotate it so that everyone who wanted to would get a chance (to be chairman). I have always said I'd like to be chairman. Maybe more so in the past than I do now."

Williams said he'd like for the voters, not the commission, to decide the chairman.

"I'm all for that," he said.

According to Blizzard, the local legislative delegation, Bobby Parham and Johnny Grant, has the authority to change it.

"So far our local legislation has wanted our commissioners to initiate the process," Blizzard said. "They would have to introduce it. I've talked to the other commissioners, and I haven't got support to do that. They seemed to be satisfied with the way the situation we have."

If the voting for chairman was to change, Blizzard believes the voters should not vote for a chairman until the present board comes up for re-election in 2008.