County Sole Commissioner vs. Board of Commissioners

May 19, 2011 9:38 am

by Nathan · 37 comments

Walker County is one of a few counties in Georgia (and in the United States, for that matter) that has a sole commissioner.  There have been rumors floated about that indicate that one of the possible candidates for commissioner next year would try to move us to a board of commissioners (with the Georgia General Assembly’s blessing, of course).  I do believe that our county had a commission board years ago, but consolidated the board into a sole commissioner for reasons unknown to me.

I can understand why having a board of commissioners would be more appealing since you would have representation across the county, in theory.  However, there is a possibility of creating more problems than solving them.  From my perspective, it would seem like the county would have multiple chiefs that govern by committee rather than a sole person where the buck would stop.  Maybe I shouldn’t worry too much about governance by committee since that worked so well for the Georgia Senate this past legislative session…right?

I grant that the sole commissioner places both the legislative and executive role into the hands of a single person and can potentially abuse the power, but I will say that my commissioner has done a good job of holding about 18 town hall meetings around the county about once or twice a year.  That can change with the person holding the office, but I always believed that you could always communicate your displeasure at the ballot box of the primary and general elections if you didn’t like the performance of an elected official.  If you don’t like what the sole commissioner is doing, then vote them out.  That becomes a little bit hairier when you’re dealing with a board of commissioners that may have staggered terms and further complicated if those commissioners aren’t elected county-wide but by their districts.

Maybe it works well for other, larger counties where accountability should be spread out among representatives across the county.  However, we’re a county of close to 68,000 and still vastly rural.  I’m not sure if the needs of our county would be best served by a board of commissioners with numerous agendas (not to say a sole commissioner doesn’t have his own agenda).

For those who live in counties with a board of commissioners, what has your experience been?
drjay May 19, 2011 at 9:58 am

sorry, all you n. ga counties with sole commissioners makes me think boss hogg, with all the negative connotation that implies…wasn’t there a big hoopla a couple years back that the sole commissioner, in like union county, trying to sabotage the county gop convention, by like deciding at the very, very last minute not to let them use the county courthouse for precinct meeting or some such…

drjay May 19, 2011 at 10:03 am

also i’m curious how powerful is the sheriff in your county, is he a counterweight to the solecomm, or is your roscoe your boss hogg’s brother in law like in hazzard…

Doug Grammer May 19, 2011 at 10:21 am

Sheriff Wilson is very popular. I think he was reelected with 80% of the vote, the highest of anyone in the county. He is a Dem while our commissioner is a member of the GOP, and also well liked.

If you have the right person in office, a sole commissioner is a wonderful thing. The wrong person can prove to be disastrous. There was another sole commissioner in North Georgia who disagreed with the sheriff. He cut the sheriff’s budget so that he could run the jail and serve papers and that all. The commissioner then started his own county police force. That county now has a multi-commissioner former of government.

I think Walker County would keep a sole commissioner if they voted on it.

Doug Deal May 19, 2011 at 11:24 am

If you have the “right person in office” despotism or a monarchy works as well. The problem is that you never really find that “right person”, which is why the founding fathers so intricately crafted those inefficient checks and balances that have done nothing but protect our rights.

The worst type of government in the world is efficient government, unless freedom is a frivolity to sacrifice on the altar of saving a couple of bucks or wasting a minute or two.

Doug Grammer May 19, 2011 at 2:42 pm

I think we have the right person in office. Our county budget is about 18 million dollars, contrasted with Gordon County , about the same size, and has a budget of 50 million dollars. Walker County enjoyes one of the lowest per capita taxes in the state. Gordon is multi member commissioner form of government.

Doug Grammer May 19, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Posting at work doesn’t really give one time to edit properly.

David Staples May 19, 2011 at 11:54 am

Personally, I like having checks and balances that Doug Deal describes. Being a resident of Cobb County, we have four part time commissioners plus the chairman for a total of five. Then again, we also have over 700k residents. The county is divided up into four districts, each served by a part time commissioner – roughly 175k residents per district (roughly 2.5x the size of your county) just going by the rough numbers. So long as there is an avenue for a recall should the sole commissioner happen to abuse their power, I don’t have a problem with smaller counties having sole commissioners.

Just from glancing at Wikipedia, I see where there are 5 incorporated cities / towns within Walker county, which comprise roughly 1/3 of the county. That leaves roughly 2/3 of the county in unincorporated areas. Those cities and towns have their own administration and little need from the county for services I would imagine, right?

Nathan May 19, 2011 at 12:25 pm

We have 4 cities (Chickamauga, LaFayette, Lookout Mountain, and Rossville), but 5 if you count the sliver of Fort Oglethorpe that bleeds into our county and they have elected mayors and city councils and other services. I’m not sure if the county commissioner can be recalled or not, but I would think so since we have recalled our school board before.

Doug Grammer May 19, 2011 at 2:56 pm

The commissioner can be recalled. I would think that much more than 2/3′s of the county is unincorporated.

David Staples May 19, 2011 at 3:19 pm

via Wikipedia (which of course could be wrong… but it’s what I’ve got handy):

61,053 – Walker County (2000)
2,245 – Chickamauga
6,702 – LaFayette
1,617 – Lookout Mountain
3,511 – Rossville
185 – Fort Oglethorpe (My initial calculation included all of this as Walker County, but I now see that the majority of it is in Catoosa)
= 14,260 / 61,053 = 23.36% :: 76.64% in unincorporated Walker, roughly 3/4′s.

I don’t have the 2010 census numbers handy or else I’d have used them instead. :-)

By comparison, Greenland has an approximate population of 55,615.

Calypso May 19, 2011 at 3:38 pm

But Greenland is pretty far away from the Chattanooga Aquarium.

Nathan May 19, 2011 at 3:41 pm

This is true. I’d have trouble driving to Chattanooga for work. :)

racinwithrex May 21, 2011 at 10:50 am

The commissioner can be recalled.

Having worked one (recall) I really won’t think this would be an option. Of the recalls I have seen, not many have worked out. Just wait till the next election and work hard then. Isn’t worth the time and effort to try a recall. But then again, politics in general isn’t worth the effort and that’s why they get away with everthing they do.

LaFayette Underground May 22, 2011 at 4:02 pm

I looked up the recall rules.. We’d have to have 15% of the people who voted in the last commissioner’s election to sign a petition just to get it on the ballot. By the time we got it on there, she’d be up for reelection anyway – and actually recalling her would require us to clearly prove she’s broken the law. It’s not against the law to make terrible decisions and ignore your constituents, just ill-advised. Not looking for a recall here, not even looking to have the current commissioner voted out – just want her to not be the only one there. Walker County is more than Chickamauga but she governs us like that’s all there is.

racinwithrex May 22, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Even with a Judge ruling, you have to be able to “Educate” folks on what the recall is all about. Like I said earlier, I would NEVER work another. It’s just to much trouble. Most folks just grype and don’t want to get involved and the other folks just don’t pay enough attention to what’s going on. Take for instance, this Tornado will get alot of folks re-elected just for being seen. Don’t matter on the record past, just the latest good deed is all you need!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Chuck Shiflett May 19, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Here in Bartow County (population 100,186) we are the largest county with a sole commissioner. We had a referendum a couple of years ago to go to a board but the measure was designed in such a way that even those in favor had trouble supporting it. Of course this was intentional by the “clique” to keep it from passing.

The ballot question should have been in two parts: (1) “Should the sole commissioner form of government be replaced with a board of commissioners… yes or no?” This gives everyone an up or down voice.

(2) “If question number one passes, which board of commissioners form of government would you prefer? (a) Five PT commissioners each elected from a separate district who would select their own chairman and hire a fulltime professional county manager. (b) Four PT commissioners each elected from separate districts with a fulltime chairman elected countywide?” This gives even those who voted no on question 1 a say in how the new board would be constituted if it passes.

Even with the “right” person in office, which many believe we have in Bartow, not having a board means a lot of things that should be done in the sunshine will be done instead in darkness as there are no work sessions or meetings with discussion and back and forth. The sole commissioner just renders his or her verdict. Georgia is the only state that allows sole commissioners and I think the number of counties here with it are down to around 8 or 9. The state legislature should pass legislation doing away with it, though it may require a constitutional amendment voted on statewide, but we did that in 1992 when we did away with elected county school superintendents. (Another former boss hogg position)

AthensRepublican May 19, 2011 at 5:31 pm

I agree. At some point, the sole commissioner without any board oversight will become a major problem. Dodge County and Madison County in the 1990s are two counties that come to mind where suspicion arose from the lack of oversight.

LaFayette Underground May 19, 2011 at 11:25 pm

The idea that a sole commissioner is the best option for Walker County was advocated by the current commissioner’s mentor and former boss, himself a sole commissioner. The current commissioner, Bebe Heiskell, has been in county government since the 1970′s and commissioner since 2001 – the poor condition of the county reflects her leadership. At this point I would vote for anyone to be rid of her, but what we need most of all is a county commission instead of a sole elected queen.

If we had a commission we could get Jeff Mullis off the county dole, a $60,000 annual salary paid by the counties he supposedly represents. Walker contributes $90,000 to Mullis’ Development Authority office which produces nothing except a Web site and trips to Germany for the state senator’s benefit (and has been accused of helping with his campaigns). The commissioner gives him our tax dollars, and in return he doesn’t support changing the county into a sole commissioner form of government – without support from the local delegation they can’t change any local charters. It’s a nice package, and Nathan stands to be a bit influenced by it since he’s head of the local GOP crammed in between Mullis and commissioner Heiskel apparently believing whatever they tell him

Georgia is the only state in the US that allows sole commissioner county governments, and in Georgia we only have eight counties left that employ it. Of those eight, only two of the counties have more than 40,000 residents – Walker with 68,756 and Bartow with 100,157. As we noted when the census results came out, “sole commissioner counties might have been fine in the 1800′s when some counties didn’t have enough residents to form a baseball team, but in this day there’s no good reason for 70- or 100-thousand people to be ‘represented’ by one person at the county level. That’s something that needs to be addressed in the state legislature.” (See http://www.cityoflafayettega.com/2011/03/2010-census-breakdown/#9 ).

Nathan, much like Jeff Mullis and Bebe Heiskell, is disconnected from the thoughts and needs of Walker County residents if he thinks everyone loves the leadership we have. Heiskell would be done if we had a decent candidate to run against her, and we may if retired physician Dr. Paul Shaw takes a run at her in 2012 as he’s rumored to do. Nathan’s posted claims about Steve Wilson’s popularity are also thin – a good candidate who would remind voters of Wilson’s involvement with the Noble Crematory disaster and in the murder of 911-dispatcher Theresa Parker by her cop husband would win in a heartbeat.

Nathan needs to grow up a little bit and look beyond the public image of the candidates he supports. A tiny bit of research shows these Good Christian People™ behaving unethically and doing little to actually benefit those they claim to represent.

Nathan May 20, 2011 at 12:41 am

I’ve never claimed nor do I believe that everyone loves our leadership or style of county governance.

Our nominees are chosen by an open primary, so I hope to see you at qualifying next year if you choose to qualify as a Republican for either commissioner or sheriff (or even state senator, but that’s done in the secretary of state’s office) since you feel strongly about the issue. I believe that’s a great way to get involved in the process.

I don’t claim to know everything about the county or the state. I am young, but I am learning and trying to be involved to make a difference in my community. I only posed a question trying to get opinions. Thanks for yours.

Doug Grammer May 20, 2011 at 10:49 am

I went on TV, more than once in the last election, and talked about our Sheriff’s involvement with the crematory. He still won by the widest margin of anyone in the county.

Two candidates ran against our senator in the last election and together that got about 30% of the vote in the primary. Anyone running against our Commissioner should expect the same results.

I’ll get you a tissue if that makes you cry.

Charlie May 20, 2011 at 11:03 am

Nathan grew up a little today, as it is his birthday.

Happy Birthday Nathan!

Nathan May 20, 2011 at 11:40 am

Thanks, I appreciate it.

LaFayette Underground May 20, 2011 at 1:38 am

I can’t run else I’d have to come clean about being editor of the Underground site, and my family would face dangerous retaliation.. I couldn’t be an honest player and run for office without revealing my connection to the site, and based on hateful comments from LaFayette PD officers and people related to the Sheriff’s Office that’s not going to happen. And the risk isn’t worth it because I wouldn’t win since I’m not from Chickamauga.

Did you come to any of the tax increase hearings Bebe held in July? She concluded the second one by saying none of the comments made by gathered citizens made a difference, because she would decide about the increase based on what she knows, not what any of us had to say. That would have done it for me if I didn’t already think we needed a commission.

On second reading my post seems a bit overly hateful to you, and I’ll apologize to that – you didn’t say we’re all happy with the commissioner, that was Doug – but as leader of the local party machine that funds and promotes campaigns for Mullis and Heiskell you ought to check more into their histories, motives, and finances. I understand party allegiance but party means nothing when you can’t even hold your own people to the standards of the party they’re a part of.

Doug Grammer May 20, 2011 at 10:43 am

If you are scared, say you are scared. To tell us who you are, would be, inconvenient? I would say it’s inconvenient for my Senator and my Commissioner to endure people who won’t put their names beside their criticisms.

Before you start in on my allegiance to the party, I just spent the last several months talking to people from all over the state about how we should have our own platform and let our elected officials know what we want them to do. I don’t agree with everything my Senator or my Commissioner do, but I agree with them most of the time. She’s not from Chickamauga but manages to win.

LaFayette Underground May 20, 2011 at 4:04 am

Also, as to Doug Grammar’s argument about Gordon County having a bigger budget because of having a commission.. Gordon County also has Interstate 75, a major rail line that doesn’t just go into the woods and stop like the rail lines in Walker, and Mohawk Industries. Mohawk was recently declared one of the five strongest industrial companies in the US and their stock has been on a tear lately after another quarter of excellent earnings. We have none of those things in Walker County. That’s not all because of the government structure, but when you say Gordon County has a higher budget you also have to consider they have a bigger base of corporate taxpayers, real jobs, and major transportation links. Don’t compare green apples to red apples in an effort to obfuscate the issue at hand.

Doug Grammer May 20, 2011 at 10:30 am

Gilmer County has a population of 28,389 and a budget of 16 million. Tell us what County you want to compare Walker County to and we will compare. I didn’t present an argument. I presented a fact and you want to argue about it. Do we have fake jobs in Walker County?

“Don’t compare green apples to red apples in an effort to obfuscate the issue at hand.” I’ll compare any apples you would deem fair to compare, but the reality is that Walker County is unique and is doing very well.

LaFayette Underground May 20, 2011 at 9:55 pm

How is Walker County doing very well? Seriously are we even talking about the same community?

Doug Grammer May 20, 2011 at 10:35 pm

It seems as if Nathan and I enjoy living here and you don’t. That seems like a 2 to 1 ratio of satisfied happy residents. I’ll give you a more serious answer when you tell us which county you want to compare Walker to.

LaFayette Underground May 21, 2011 at 1:27 am

I never said I wanted a comparison – that was your concept. I want you to quantify how Walker County is doing “well.” Taxes went up last year, we’ve lost a major employer in the last year, and 20% of the county’s population lives in poverty. Here in LaFayette, which you’re obviously not from since you think things are “going well,” 27% of residents live in poverty, including 41% of children under 18. If you think the county is doing so well why are 4 kids out of 10 living in homes that don’t bring in enough money to provide the basics to them?

Doug Grammer May 22, 2011 at 1:58 am

Oh boo hoo. The entire US economy isn’t where it’s supposed to be. I’ll quantify how well Walker is doing by comparing it to any other county in the state of Georgia, and the county can be your choice. I don’t care if it has an interstate running through it or not. I don’t care if it has 5,000 people or 500,000.

One of us signs our name to what we think and the other hides and throws rocks. My name is Doug Grammer and I approve this message. You name the county and I’ll tell why it’s better to live in Walker. You don’t like those rules, don’t play. You don’t like Walker, move.

LaFayette Underground May 22, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Some of us try to make our communities a better place instead of turning a blind eye to what’s wrong or simply running off when things don’t look good anymore.

I have to operate anonymously because we’ve gotten death threats and threats of retaliation against family, friends, and employers. The LaFayette PD chief of detectives challenged me to a fight online.. The Sheriff’s son threatened to find out my identity and post information about me online in retaliation for saying his dad looked like a fool during the Theresa Parker press conference. The city manager’s teenage son left a voicemail with one of my note takers threatening physical violence against him. After we discussed underage drinking parties a the Elks Club a member of said club sent someone associated with me a message saying he’ll destroy the man’s business. Another teenager associated with those parties threatened to stalk a Facebook commenter – and we got threats of legal action from the wealthiest family in town for questioning the incident where one of their sons was stabbed by a black man.

People don’t speak up or speak out in Walker County because they don’t want to become victims of unsolved crimes or get pulled over and harassed by cops, or beaten down behind the grocery store by angry hillbillies while the cops look the other way. If you didn’t comply with the status quo you might find yourself in the same situation. It’s not hard to use your real name (assuming that is your real name) when you agree with the people in power.

- LU

Doug Grammer May 22, 2011 at 10:47 pm

As I said before, I went on TV and talked about how Sheriff Wilson did a poor job investigating the crematory incident. I’ll talk about anything that moves me to do so. If I were to get a death threat from someone in power, it would be dealt with quickly in the courts and in public. I ain’t scared. There is a law on the books colloquially called “terrorist threats.” A terrorist threat is a “Forcible Felony” Title 16, Section 16-11-37  O.C.G.A. It sounds as if the  Lafayette PD chief of detectives crossed that line. The city managers son was kind enough to leave you evidence. I’d have them investigated if that had happened to me, but that’s me. I might also make bumper sticks and call a press conference. If you let them get away with it, it only makes them more likely to do so again.

I had a LaFayette police officer get a little stupid with me once. He pulled me over for no reason. A call to Dino Richardson set him back on the right path. I think you mean “some” people in Walker County don’t speak up. I don’t have a problem telling others what I think.

If you need help, the GBI or the FBI could step in if there’s a case of a public official using their office to intimidate you and suppress freedom of speech. Chris Arnt in the DA’s office is easy to work with. FB has an easy option to block those who are harassing you. I blocked Mike Carter recently.

Technically you are correct. My full name is Douglas. I hide behind the name Doug so people won’t know who I am.

griftdrift May 22, 2011 at 2:52 pm

The anonymous jab just never gets old, does it Doug.

Doug Grammer May 22, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Nope.

racinwithrex May 21, 2011 at 9:29 am

Far be it from me to jump into LU trying to wipe some of the brown off DG’s nose but here in Dade County Nathan we have had it all. Single, 5 man commission with one hired to be executive and now the 5 man with one being voted as the executive. Take it from this county (Dade) that you will NOT please everone with this decision.

Sole commissioners are great if you can get the JOB, but for small counties, it is a tight grip. We had the sole commissioner and then we chose the 5 man commision. We seemed not to like the 5+1 because we could never agree on the 1 that was hired to be the executive. We then voted to make it a 5 man with elected executive. Then we had the difference over the power of the elected executive being OVER the other four.. Kinda the 1+4 we had back in last term. Now we have the problem of the 4 being elected from district and now want everone voted in County wide, since the 1 (executive) was voted county wide. So for now we have the 5 man commission with one being elected executive and ever commissioner is voted on by the whole county. This will last a year or two and we will want another change.

On a side note of Walker and Bebe, we here in Dade loved her till she pitched a fit that Dade wasn’t putting in enough to keep the Hospital going. Of course now that the deal is done, no one here in Charge will make that claim now…lol…lol… That’s just politics!!!!!!!!!!

chefdavid May 21, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Let us not forget. The Sole Commissioner wanting to wager your future taxes for a private development that later went belly up. http://news.chattanoogan.com/articles/article_189029.asp At least with a board you have some checks and balances.

racinwithrex May 22, 2011 at 5:30 pm

You’ve got to have a “Board Of Commissioners” who wants checks and balances. Some just want to get along and fluff everthing up. Just look at our last two Commission Boards!

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