Coweta returns to idea of countywide chairman

Thu, 03/05/2009 - 4:17pm
By: Ben Nelms

Coweta County Commissioners last week took up the issue of having a countywide chairman to handle the growing need of regional representation in metro affairs that will increasingly impact Coweta. The idea of having a countywide chairman began more than a year ago. Though no decision was reached Feb. 26, it seemed clear that the board, in general, looked favorably on the idea.

“I think it’s vital to be able to attend (out-of-county) meetings and be the voice of the community,” said District 3 Commissioner Randolph Collins. “I thought at first it could be part-time, but I think now it could be full-time. The chairman has growing responsibilities.”

Newly elected District 4 Commissioner Rodney Brooks agreed, saying he liked the idea of having a face at regional meetings, and adding that the county might examine the need for 7 commissioners.

Newly elected District 5 Commissioner Al Smith asked if moving to a countywide commissioner would require re-districting. County attorney Jerry Ann Conner said it would be an issue, adding that the county will have to look re-districting after the 2010 census.

“So look at it in 2011 after the census figures are in and the census tracts are confirmed,” said county administrator Theron Gay.

District 2 Commissioner Tim Lassetter recommended that a list of pro’s and con’s on a full-time chairman be devised to help identify and clarify issues.

“It would be hard to justify paying a full-time chairman in these economic times, though that would likely be needed,” Lassetter said. “So we would need to spend some time discussing it before making a decision. We should also look at how other counties with full-time chairmen do it.”

Also during the discussion, Collins suggested that a position of countywide chairman should include term limits and that the board should establish an accompanying job description.

“A full-time position could draw good, needed attention to Coweta,” Collins said. “It’s time for Coweta to grow positively and impact the region. I think Coweta will be the next Gwinnett or Cobb.”

Chairman Paul Poole said he did not personally want to see a change in the current structure, noting that regional leaders will still run organizations such as Atlanta Regional Commission. But it should be put on the ballot for the citizens to decide, Poole said.

Collins countered, saying that Coweta could have a chairman who could be dominant in regional organizations. And voters should choose the best person to be chairman, he said.

Brooks suggested that a panel be established to visit other counties and develop a pro’s and con’s list for considering a countywide chairman. Smith agreed, adding that the panel should include community members.

Commissioners more than a year ago entertained the idea of going to a countywide chairman. The discussion led to an agreement to identify and establish a committee to study the move and report back to the commission.

Prior to the decision, then-District 1 Commissioner Paul Poole suggested that a countywide chairman would not need to be responsible for hiring and appointments. He also noted that even though the board might have equal votes, the chairman in some counties tends to gain power over a period of time.

“It’s important that each district get represented each year. I think what we have works well and we shouldn’t change,” Poole said.

Collins essentially agreed with Poole’s point about what might occur with a change in a chairman’s managerial responsibility, but added that a term limit and other needed restrictions could be established if the chairman’s position were to go countywide.

And in April 2008 in a meeting examining Coweta’s governmental structure, commissioners said any proposal would have to go before U.S. Dept. of Justice to determine if doing so would dilute the minority vote. During the discussion, former Commissioner Robert Wood suggested that if a countywide chairman was what occurred, the commission could elect that person for a two-year period.

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