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Perdue signs off on local laws
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Gov. Sonny Perdue signed into law four bills aimed at Effingham County government, though county commissioners had been hopeful of a veto of some of the local legislation changing the way they do business.

County Administrator Ed Williams said a representative from Gov. Sonny Perdue’s office called and asked if there was any reason why the governor should veto the local bills. Four local bills were passed in the General Assembly in the recent session, including the abolishment of an elected county surveyor position and to make the economic development authority subject to zoning laws.

Commissioners didn’t object to the passage of HB 543, concerning the development authority, or HB 706, the bill to abolish the surveyor position.

HB 543 passed the House 145-26 and passed the Senate 45-5. It was sent to the governor on April 30. HB 706 passed the House 164-0 and the Senate by 45-0. It was sent to the governor May 1.

But commissioners chafed at HB 705, creating a separate elections board, and HB 728, establishing a chairman at-large position for the board of commissioners. HB 705 sailed through both chambers without opposition and landed on Gov. Perdue’s desk May 1. HB 728, designed to set up a chairman at-large position, also passed the House and Senate without opposition and has been awaiting the governor’s signature since May 1.

“(We) were against the chairman at-large, and our commissioners pushed it anyway,” Commissioner Reggie Loper said. “I think it’s crazy. I don’t agree with it whatsoever.”

The creation of an elections board and the at-large chairman were voted on as referendum items in last year’s primaries. County commissioners passed a resolution last fall decrying the vote, noting only 13 percent of the county’s voters cast ballots in favor of it, though the overwhelming majority of those who did vote supported it.

Commission Chairwoman Verna Phillips signed the resolution along with her fellow commissioners, doing so out of respect for their wishes, she said.

“I have always felt we need as many people as we can in county government,” she said. “It has worked in other places. We’ve got some monumental problems to address. I’m for moving this county forward and the more people you can get involved, the better.”

Commissioners also questioned how the board of elections will be established and funded.

“Everybody I asked about the chairman at-large didn’t know anything about the elections board,” Commissioner Jeff Utley said of his pre-vote discussions.

Under HB 728, a chairman at-large will be elected November 2008 and will have voting privileges, giving the commissioners six voting members. A tie vote among the commissioners will be considered a no vote.

The elections board will have five members, two each chosen by the political parties receiving the most votes for its gubernatorial candidate. A fifth member will be chosen by the four appointees. If they fail to agree, that last member will be chosen by the chief judge of the Superior Court.

Appointments to the board by the political parties are scheduled to take place before June 1, with the last member chosen by June 15. Current elected officials cannot serve on the board of elections.

The elections board will name an elections supervisor, who cannot be an elections board member, and fill out the office ranks. Funding for the elections office will come from the county, according to the legislation.