Sunday, July 05, 2009

Reorganization of Oconee County Government Set for Tuesday Vote

Davis Unlikely to Get to Vote

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to give first reading on Tuesday night to an ordinance that would change the organizational chart for the county and put the full commission–rather than just the commission chairman–in charge of administration of the county.

Specifically, the ordinance would make the administrative officer and the finance director of the county responsible to the full five-member commission, rather than just to the chairman. The heads of county departments would be approved by the full board. At present, they are hired by the chairman of the board.

The County Clerk and the County Attorney would continue to be appointed by the full board, as in the existing organizational chart. The revised organizational chart reflects the changes.

Melvin Davis, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, made a full-scale assault on the ordinance in his column in the July 2 issue of The Oconee Enterprise and in an interview he did with Johnathan McGinty, who writes a column for the Athens Banner-Herald.

Davis wrote in the Enterprise that the "draft ordinance alters the state legislation" that governs the county by removing "the day-to-day responsibility of management from the county chair (CEO)." The ordinance assigns responsibility for management of the county to the administrative officer, he said.

Davis said that the other four members of the commission are trying to "change our form of government without voter input and approval." He said citizen input is needed and, if "citizens desire a change, then it should be implemented the proper way."

Davis doesn’t say this in his column, but he knows that state Rep. Bob Smith and state Sen. Bill Cowsert are not likely to introduce any legislation to the state General Assembly for approval unless there is agreement of the full board about what it should contain.

The proposed ordinance, which, minus some of the exhibits, is on the county web site, was drafted by County Attorney Daniel Haygood after a series of board meetings going back to last September.

Commissioners Margaret Hale, Chuck Horton and Jim Luke have been calling for change in the way the county operates from the start of those meetings, and they were joined in January by new Commissioner John Daniell.

Hale, Horton and Luke have repeatedly charged Davis with withholding information from them. They have argued that they need to have control over Administrative Officer Alan Theriault and Finance Director Jeff Benko and some power over other department heads to fix the problem.

Davis has repeatedly said there is no communication problem. In the interview with McGinty, he is quoted as saying "communication is an excuse, not a fact. My honest belief is that the board desires more direct involvement in the day-to-day operations of government."

Davis has said that this kind of involvement is not efficient and goes against the current enabling legislation for the county, which says that the chairman of the board is the "chief executive officer" of the county.

Davis’ interview appears in three parts on a blog McGinty posts. Parts one and two deal with the proposed ordinance.

The ordinance that will be considered by the board on Tuesday states that "nothing in this Ordinance is intended to make any change" in the existing enabling legislation. The ordinance says that it "shall be the policy of the Board that the Chairperson shall have particular leadership and emphasis" in specified areas.

Those areas include coordination of intergovernmental activities, economic development, public relations, development of policies related to the future needs of the county and evaluation of county services.

The ordinance also says that the chairperson shall review "reports of the Administrative Officer and Finance Director" and "review staff activities to ensure the ordinances, resolutions, policies, actions and directives of the Board are being implemented and to take such steps as are reasonably required to correct any deficiencies."

The public was prevented from commenting at the meetings held to develop the ordinance but is scheduled to be given a chance to have input on Tuesday night. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the courthouse in Watkinsville.

The public also is to be allowed to comment at the July 28 agenda setting meeting of the board. The board is scheduled to take final action on the ordinance on Aug. 4.

Davis is unlikely to have a chance to vote on the ordinance. The existing enabling legislation specifies that the chairperson votes only in the case of a tie vote among the other four commissioners.

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