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It’s in the details: Bill creating board of commissioners for Walker County outlines setup in extensive detail

October 14, 2018

Many, if not most, Walker County residents know that a question will be on the Nov. 6 ballot asking voters if they want to change the county’s form of government from a “sole” commissioner to a “board” of commissioners.

Some residents also know that the board will consist of four district commissioners, plus a commission chair.

But few know and understand that every miniscule detail of the board and election — from the qualifications and salaries of the members, to the geographical boundaries of the four districts, to lines of succession if a member could not continue to serve for any reason — have already been prescribed by the legislative act creating the potential board and ordering its inclusion on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The bill to create the Board of Commissioners of Walker County (GA SB292) was introduced March 16, 2017, by state senators Jeff Mullis and Steve Tarvin, was passed April 10, and was signed on May 2, 2017.

According to the bill, the board was defined as “the Board of Commissioners of Walker County, including the chairperson and all members” and is to include a chairperson and four district commissioners who have to reside in their representative districts and to be elected by the electors of their respective districts. The bill also set the boundaries of each of the four commissioner districts, dividing the county approximately evenly according to population based on the 2020 census, with each district having one incorporated city: LaFayette, Chickamauga, Fort Oglethorpe, and Lookout Mountain. The chairperson of the board is to be elected at large with all county voters making that choice.

Qualifications of a district commissioner include being 18 or older, having resided in the district at least 12 consecutive months prior to the election, and specifying the district in which he or she is running. A district commissioner must continue to reside in the district in which he was elected during his tenure or his or her office will be deemed vacant if he or she moves out of the district during the four-year term. The board chairman shall be at least 25 and shall have lived in Walker County for at least 12 consecutive months prior to his or her election.

If a vacancy occurs on the board with at least 180 days remaining in the unexpired term, a special election will be called for within 15 days after the vacancy occurs, with the winner of that special election taking office immediately upon the certification of the results of that election. If a vacancy comes with fewer than 180 days remaining in the unexpired term, the remaining board members will appoint a qualified person to fill the vacancy for the rest of the term. If the board chair is vacated, the vice chairperson of the board will exercise the powers and duties of the chairperson from the date of the vacancy until a successor chairperson takes office following a special election for that position.

All district commissioners and the chairperson shall take an oath for “the true and faithful performance” of their duties and give a surety bond for $25,000 to the judge of the probate court.

District commissioners will serve on a part-time basis and be paid $12,ooo per year in equal monthly installments plus reimbursement for reasonable expenses incurred while carrying out their duties. The chairperson will serve in a full-time capacity and be paid an annual salary equal to that of the highest paid elected county officer (usually the sheriff) plus an additional $500 or $100,000 annually, whichever is greater.

The chairperson and district commissioners are entitled to compensation for serving on other boards or authorities as provided by law. Commissioners may participate in county health, dental and county retirement programs, but these will not be paid for by the county.

The board of commissioners must have at least two regular open meetings monthly, including a time in those meetings allotted exclusively for public comment. Special meetings may be held providing all members of the board are notified at least three days prior to the special meeting which is open to the public.

Three district commissioners or the chairperson plus two district commissioners shall constitute a quorum for all meetings. No official actions can be taken on issues except upon the affirmative vote of at least three members of the board. The chairman can only vote if his or her vote would affect the outcome of the given issue.

Legislated duties of the chairperson include calling board meetings, preparing a proposed agenda and presiding over board meetings, representing the county government at ceremonial functions, submitting motions that have been made and seconded to the board for a vote and action, appointing members and chairpersons to board committees with board approval, and providing other duties delegated by the board or provided by laws and ordinances. The chairperson is also limited to $25,000 spending without approval of the board.

The board is empowered to levy taxes, make appropriations, fix rates for county services, authorize the incurring of indebtedness, authorizing work to be done against benefitted property, authorizing and executing contracts, authorizing transportation actions, establishing and changing election precincts, determining the priority of capital improvements, and other described duties.

Also legislated are the appointment of and compensation for legal counsel and an independent county auditor. Other internal organization, especially departments, can be established and altered by the board, and a county clerk is also to be appointed to keep proper and accurate minutes of all meetings.

The final section of the legislation establishes the board’s detailed procedure for budgeting and governing expenditures of all county funds, capital outlays, and public works projects. It specifies the holding of two public hearings at least seven days apart on the budget. Budget revisions may be made only by formal action by the board at regular board meetings. An end-of-year continuous audit of county finances and financial records are required. Such annual reports are available to the public.

In summary, if the voters of Walker County do pass the referendum changing from a sole commissioner to a board of commissioners form of government, extensive planning and legislative execution have gone into the structure and duties of the commission. The organization and operations of the commission, if the voters chose it, are definitely those of a finely detailed, legislated commission.