Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Citizens Speak on Oconee County Governance Ordinance

First Chance to Comment

Nine individuals came forward last night to express opinions on and ask questions about a proposed ordinance that would change the way the Oconee County Board of Commissioners interacts with administrators and department heads who run the county day-to-day.

Some of those taking a position were supportive of the ordinance, and some were critical.

Mary Mellein, who has been active in local politics, questioned whether the full board efficiently could handle hiring and firing of the administrative officer and finance director, as is proposed in the ordinance. At present, the administrative officer and finance director report only to the chairman of the Board of Commissioners.

Chuck Williams, president of North Georgia Bank and chair of the Oconee County Development Authority, also expressed doubts that the proposed changes would improve the operation of the county.

Charles Baugh, president of Citizens for Oconee’s Future, spoke in favor of the ordinance, which was drafted by County Attorney Daniel Haygood after lengthy discussions over the last 10 months about the power of the chairman and the others members of the commission.

The chairman both runs the meetings of and votes on issues before the commission in case of a tie and is the chief executive of the county. Baugh applauded the four commissioners for their work to strengthen their role in county governance.

At one point during the meeting, Commissioner Margaret Hale restated emphatically her position that Chairman Melvin Davis has withheld information from the commission during his nearly nine years in office, making it difficult for the commissioners to function effectively.

Chairman Davis responded by unpacking a box he had brought to the meeting, saying it contained documents he had given to the commission recently. "Communication is a two way street," he said.

Sarah Bell, who ran unsuccessfully against Davis in the Republic primary in July of 2008, also supported the ordinance. I also spoke in favor of the ordinance but asked that it be modified to eliminate the section specifying duties of the chairman. I said I did not believe the existing enabling legislation gave the commissioners the right to limit the chairman acting as chief executive officer of the county.

The public comments followed the first reading of the ordinance by Haygood. The public also will be given a second chance to comment at the next agenda setting meeting of the commission, which starts at 7 p.m. on July 28 at the courthouse.

The second reading of the ordinance, and final action, is scheduled for the next regular meeting of the commission on Aug. 4.

The ordinance and supporting documents are available on the county web site. The video recording of last night’s meeting is available on the official county site on Vimeo.


Rich Clark said...

Thank you for the update; this blog is, in my opinion, the best news source on Oconee politics. I greatly appreciate your candor about your own leanings on the issue and the balance of your reports.

It's easy to see this issue as a contest between greater democracy (pro ordinance) versus greater efficiency (anti ordinance); is this a fair characterization of the issue?

Lee Becker said...

Thank you for your compliment. I think we are experiencing an increase in news sources in the county, and I believe that is a good thing. Please take a look at I am editing this site, but it is open to others as well. I hope it can serve as a portal for news about the county.

I mentioned in the story that I had expressed my opinion at the meeting not as a way of communicating that opinion but in order to be honest about my involvement in the story.

You said it is easy to see this issue as a contest between greater democracy (pro-ordinance) versus greater efficiency (anti-ordinance). This certainly is part of the argument being made.

My own view is that the controversy is the result of a natural tension between the executive branch of government and the legislative branch. Through the ordinance, the legislative branch (the commission) is asserting its power in reference to the executive branch. The situation is complicated because the county’s chief executive also is chairman of the legislative branch. Of course there are many parallels to this. The Vice President of the United States presides over the U.S. Senate.

As I said at the meeting, I prefer a strong executive and a strong legislative branch so each can be a check on the other. Among other things, this gives citizens two opportunities to be heard.