By a split decision, Effingham County commissioners decided to start reducing the number of members on the county recreation board.
Commissioners approved through a 3-2 vote cutting the recreation board’s membership from nine to five, eliminating the seats reserved for each of the three municipalities and an at-large seat.
“We’ve been talking about this for months,” said Commissioner Vera Jones, who said the revised ordinance also would clean up the confusion between the current ordinance and the rec board’s by-laws.
Jones said the way the recreation board has been set up gives some districts more representation over others. Commissioner Forrest Floyd pointed out that three of the nine members are from one particular county commission district.
Commissioner Reggie Loper, who voted against amending the ordinance governing how the recreation board is set up, said he did not see a need to alter the membership.
“They have been working to get better recreation in the county, and now we’re going to cut three of them off,” he said. “We’re not paying any of the people on the recreation board one red cent.
“Why mess something up that is working?”
Commissioner Jamie DeLoach, who also opposed the decision, said there was no issue with how the rec board is operating currently.
“We have people lined up wanting to be on the board,” he said.
Floyd said rec board members who lose their seats through the ordinance still can be a part of the proceedings.
“They can still attend meetings and voice their opinions,” he said. “Why can’t they still be involved? Why do they have to vote?”
Rec board chairman Craig Johnson, who is Springfield’s representative, wasn’t in favor of amending the board’s structure.
“I want to leave it as it is,” he said. “We’ve got a good group.”
Johnson added the rec board and the commissioners have worked together well on the plans for the central park complex.
“This almost puts a little tarnish on it,” he said.
Johnson and other rec board members told commissioners that city and district lines are not an issue when the group conducts its business.
“We don’t operate as districts or cities; we’re very in synch with each other,” he said. “We want fairness across the board. We’re a board for the county. The will of the people would be to leave it as it is.”
Floyd said the feedback he has been getting about the rec board is to make its representation equitable.
“I do appreciate what the board has done,” he said.
Douglas Kirkland, the city of Guyton’s member for the rec board, said Mayor Michael Garvin was opposed to reducing the number of members.
“I’m here to represent the county overall,” he said. “I think we have been productive.”
Added Charles Dixon, the rec board’s 1st District representative: “I don’t see a problem with the way the board is now.”
Springfield City Manager Brett Bennett reminded commissioners the city had no issue with the commissioners reducing the number of planning board members and had no stance on cutting back the rec board numbers.
“I’m not saying some change may not need to happen at some point,” he said. “Now may not necessarily be the best time. I see the benefit of having a citizen on it. The citizens of Guyton, Springfield and Rincon do participate in county recreation. I’m very proud of what our recreation commission has done.”
Loper suggested letting the terms of the at-large member and cities’ representatives expire without filling them, taking the board down to five members that way. But his recommendation was not pursued.
Commissioners also have reduced the county planning board from eight to five members, with one member for each of the county commission districts. The board also had seats for a member of each of the cities.
The planning board voted in January against changing their by-laws and reducing their membership from eight to five. According to county staff, eliminating three members will save $3,600 a year. Each city has its own planning and zoning commission.
Rincon has its own recreation department, and Guyton has a leisure services commission. Springfield does not have a recreation or leisure department.
Commissioner Phil Kieffer also issued the worry that the by-laws under which the recreation board operated could have an effect on future county audits.
“My main concern is it what is in contrast with our financial policies,” he said. “We’re susceptible in the audit. This has not been about not allowing the cities to have representation.”
Commissioners offered the worry that under the rec board’s bylaws the county could be left on the hook for expenses incurred by the board.
Mike Wilson, the at-large member whose seat also would be discarded under the revised ordinance, said he still planned to be a part of the rec board discussions.
“What troubles me, when we were going through the process of trying to decide what recreation could do and could not do,” he said, “we were handed the by-laws that said we were a recommendation-type board. And what you guys are showing us is we are not a recommendation-type board. We could have spent money, and you guys would have to pay the bills.”
Wilson said a bill for uniforms for rec teams went unpaid for several months after it was turned in to the county.
“We almost lost the ability to purchase from that place because that bill set up here on a desk unpaid,” he said.
Because commissioners did not approve the measure unanimously, they could not approve a second reading at the same meeting in which there was a first reading.
County commission Chairman Wendall Kessler said he came to last Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting without having his mind made up in advance.
“I have not heard anything that would lead me to believe we need nine members,” he said. “I think it’s a valid point that people are going to come to the meetings when they want to be involved. I don’t see where the cities are entitled to representation. We give money to the cities through service delivery for whatever program they want to have above the county level. I don’t have a problem. I think five does just as well as nine.”