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Chairman at-large seat won’t be full-time

POSTED: August 4, 2011 7:11 p.m.

If Effingham County voters get the chance to determine if they want to retain the at-large county commission chairman post next year, it won’t be a full-time position.

County commissioners voted 5-1 Tuesday not to add a question on the ballot, asking voters in favor of keeping the at-large chairman seat as a full-time, rather than a part-time, position.

Chairman Dusty Zeigler floated the proposal at the previous regular commissioners’ meeting, when commissioners voted in a split decision to ask state lawmakers to introduce local legislation about the at-large spot. Under the request, voters would be asked if they wanted to keep the at-large spot or revert to a five-person board, with a chairman being chosen from among the five commissioners.

“What my vision was, if we’re going to vote to find out what the people want, let’s find out that if they do like the position do they want to make it full-time and more involved in the day-to-day operations,” Zeigler said.

Commissioner Vera Jones was concerned that a full-time chairman would be a duplication of efforts by performing duties already done by the county administrator.

“We pay him to take care of the day-to-day activities,” she said.

Commissioner Bob Brantley also said he had concerns about the duplication of effort, but he wanted the commission to explore the matter further in a workshop.

“I feel like there’s a better way,” he said. “I feel like this is something we need to talk over and get some ideas and how to deal with some of the issues we have, instead of trying to create more.”

Jones said her research showed that many counties that have a full-time chairman don’t have a county administrator.

The chairman at-large position, established in 2006, grew out of a 2006 referendum, held during the July general primary. But only 13 percent of Effingham’s voters weighed in on the question during that election, and Kieffer proposed local legislation last month to get the question on the ballot in time for the presidential preference primary in February. Turnout for the presidential primary is expected to be much stronger.

The resolution calling for the vote on the future of the chairman at-large position states “such fundamental and substantial changes to county government should, by necessity, require and enjoy broad approval and support” by Effingham voters.

Under Zeigler’s proposal, the full-time position would continue to set the commissioners’ meeting agendas and act as the official spokesperson of the board. The full-time chairman also would paid at one-fifth the minimum salary for the sheriff.

Kieffer hopes state lawmakers, who will be convening soon for the redistricting special session, will take up putting the measure on the ballot. If they don’t, it would be January before legislators could act upon it and it would not have time to be placed on the February presidential primary ballot.

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