Most likely Effingham County voters are not familiar with the “home rule” and now wonder how it can so easily remove their measures of having elected to establish a commission chairperson who has the authority to vote. The home rule is essentially a method by which county commissioners can attempt to trump state legislation thought to be negatively affecting their county.
In this particular case, the brand new district commissioners are attempting to use this home rule to abolish the chairperson’s right to vote. Their reasons are quite vague and they seem to not have a solid idea of just what the chairperson’s role should be moving forward. One district commissioner commented that he felt the chairperson’s position should be likened to that of a mayor for the county. Even under the advisement of the county attorney to not do this, these commissioners fervently seek to expedite the home rule process to disallow the chairperson the right to vote regardless of what the chairperson’s future duties are decided to be.
Do these actions represent the desires of citizens? Seemingly, this matter did not exist until the new commissioners took their seats for the first time. Were there vocal citizens in the districts clamoring to change the chairperson’s duties? Because of the chairperson’s voting duty, are citizens truly concerned about the possibility of 3-3 tie vote among the Board of Commissioners? Is it really the chairperson’s vote that causes the tie or the other two commissioners who vote the same?
Nonetheless, in their ill-preparedness, these commissioners provided no evidence of when any tie-vote situations may have created a challenging dilemma for the county. However, an inspection of county records shows only three instances of a tied vote since the inception of the at-large chairperson position. Over the last two years and roughly 500 agenda items requiring resolution, the three instances equates to less than 1 percent of the time. One of these instances was a trivial matter concerning fireworks; whereas the other two concerned the four-day work week and an ethics ordinance (which new commissioners quickly repealed this at their first meeting). Of course, both of latter two matters were resolved after further discussion.
The chairperson’s position was established by Effingham County voters for the purpose of representing the county collectively, not just the best interests of one particular district. Though a tie may result from the chairperson’s ability to vote, the reasoning was to use this tie event to allow additional time and diligence to be given to an apparent important issue. This issue could then be further researched, discussed, and perhaps then decided upon. Therefore, the best interests of the entire county would be represented.
Certainly the “majority rules” and a change could perhaps be better. However, this issue begs the question of whether this should be an action by district commissioners or Effingham County voters. These actions are very radical and have not been well planned.
Furthermore, there is a stark difference in the authorities of a chairperson and a mayor. Comparatively speaking, mayors traditionally have the power of veto and the authority to spend monies without consent of council members. Voters may not wish the chairperson to possess so much power. Moreover, any potential change should take effect at the completion of the incumbent chairperson’s term and the process of altering duties should be accomplished with the cooperation of state legislators and more importantly, citizens’ votes. Most important is the fact that four district commissioners are directly tied to the developer/builder industry and the fifth is a real estate broker. Does this create a circumstance of good checks and balances?
It is always a great benefit to have options and what is best for the county should prevail. Effingham surely needs to overcome its image of internal conflict and sibling rivalries. One can only speculate and wonder as to what direction this board may take next.
There are, however, some very important questions to consider. If this home rule measure prevails and the chairperson’s position no longer possesses any power or authority, how many citizens will be interested in campaigning for the position? What other elected official’s positions will be subject to the use of the home rule? If the chairperson does not vote, then a quorum will now be established with as little as three commissioners. Has the Republican Party together with the developer/builder community stacked the board? Whose best interests will be represented?
Dusty Zeigler is chairman of the
Effingham County Board of Commissioners.