County Comm. starts off ’08 with elections

Wed, 01/02/2008 - 9:59am
By: John Thompson

Last year marked the start of a new era for the Fayette County Commission as two new commissioners took office. But the most surprising development took place at the initial meeting when newcomer Jack Smith was picked as chairman over long-time Commissioner Herb Frady.

Tomorrow afternoon, the County Commission will elect its chairman and vice-chairman and after last year’s surprise election, all bets are off as to whether Smith will be re-elected.

The new County Commission wasted no time in distancing itself from the previous board as two of the county’s longest-tenured employees were replaced.

At the beginning of the year, County Administrator Chris Venice was ousted and Public Safety Director Jack Krakeel was appointed interim administrator. Venice is rumored to have already interviewed for the town manager’s position in Tyrone if current Town Manager Barry Amos is let go when Tyrone’s new regime takes office Thursday night.

Later in the year, County Attorney Bill McNally was replaced by Scott Bennett, who was the city attorney for McDonough. Bennett had a stormy tenure for the Henry County city when he admitted in the summer of 2007 that he had given the city of McDonough bad legal advice on an ordinance banning cameras from public meetings. Turns out his advice, if followed, would have been a violation of the state open meetings law.

In July, he told the McDonough City Council that it was OK to ban video cameras from public meetings.

Bennett was also County Commissioner Eric Maxwell’s attorney when Maxwell filed a successful lawsuit against Fayette County in 2004 over the sign ordinance, before Maxwell ran and won the commission seat.

Bennett — unlike McNally before him — is a staff attorney, a county employee. McNally served on contract but maintained a separate and substantial private law practice.

One of the biggest policy changes came at the end of the year when the county decided to switch to a defined benefits retirement program.

Defined benefits will provide retiring county workers with more of their pre-retirement income, but employees will have to make a mandatory 2 percent contribution of salary towards the plan.

Switching to a defined benefits package has been an issue that consumed the County Commission for months.

Commissioner Eric Maxwell, who served on the committee studying the switch, said that his vote implied that there would not be a future liability for taxpayers. The fiscal soundness of the plan has caused concern in many quarters, including former commissioners.

In August, a group of former county commission chairmen banded together to speak up against adopting a defined benefit pension plan.

The former chairmen said the plan is a bad idea that would cost taxpayers “millions of dollars” and questioned how the plan would be funded.

One of the major items on the first agenda of 2008 Wednesday afternoon is a discussion of the Water Committee’s recommendation to the board to approve the proposed change to the county code to enable the water system to take over individual community septic and drip irrigation systems within a subdivision.

On Feb. 7, 2007, the Board of Commissioners approved the original recommendation to own and operate the systems. The code needs to be updated to include the proposed changes and enable the Water System to take over individual community septic and drip irrigation systems as they are built to county specifications.

The board meets at 3:30 Wednesday afternoon.

login to post comments