Sunday, July 29, 2012

All Four Oconee County Board of Commissioners Candidates Want to Keep Power Balance with Chairman

No Rollback Sought

Regardless of which of the two candidates running for the chairmanship of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners wins on Tuesday, he is going to be confronted with four other commissioners who say that they want to share governance equally with the chairman.

The current four commissioners, over the objection of incumbent chairman Melvin Davis, in August of 2009 approved an ordinance requiring the county administrative officer and its finance director to report to all five Commission member, not just the chairman, as had been the case prior to passage of the ordinance. The ordinance and its accompanying organizational chart required all department heads to report to the county administrative officer, rather than to the chairman.

All four of the candidates competing for the two posts on the Commission have said they do not see any need to make changes in the ordinance.

In fact, that ordinance has not played much of a role in the current campaign except in the contest between Davis, seeking reelection to a fourth term, and Chuck Horton, who has said he chose to run against Davis to change the way the chairman deals with the other Commission members.

Jim Luke, seeking reelection to his Post 1 position, told me by telephone on Thursday of last week that he sees “no need for further changes” in the operating ordinance.

Sarah Bell, who is challenging Luke for the Post 1 position, said that same night that “As far as I am concerned, we are about where we need to be right now.”

Tammy Gilland and Mark Saxon, seeking the Post 4 position currently held by Horton, both told me via email messages that they, too, are satisfied with the current arrangement.

Gilland wrote me on Thursday that “I will not make any changes in the current organizational chart.”

Saxon said on Friday “I have no plans to challenge or change the current organizational chart.”

Commissioners Margaret Hale and John Daniell are not up for reelection and have two more years left in their terms.

Many Already Have Voted

Of the 23,514 eligible Oconee County voters, 3,710 (15.8 percent) cast their ballots in early voting, which started on July 9 and ended on Friday, Carole Amos, deputy registrar, told me at the end of the day on Friday.

Another 161 mail ballots had been received back in the office, Amos said, out of the 245 requested.

During this past week, voting was held at the Civic Center as well as at the office of the Board of Elections and Registration next to the courthouse in Watkinsville.

Amos said that among the 3,227 voters casting ballots at the Board office, 3,067 used the Republican ballot, 113 used the Democratic ballot, and 47 used the nonpartisan ballot.

Democrats have not run any candidates in the Oconee County races.

The Democratic ballot contains only the uncontested public service and district attorney for the Western Judicial Circuit race, some nonbinding questions, a group of nonpartisan and uncontested races, and the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax issue.

The nonpartisan ballot contains the nonpartisan and uncontested races and the T-SPLOST issue, which, if approved, would add a 1 percent sales tax to the existing 7 percent sales tax in the county.

The T-SPLOST and nonpartisan races appear on the Republican ballot as well.

It is impossible to know how many additional voters will turn out at the polls on Tuesday.

In the comparable July 15, 2008, election, Oconee County had 19,190 registered voters, and 6,993, or 36.4 percent, turned out, according to the official results from the Georgia Secretary of State Office.

Conflict Results from Enabling Legislation

The ambiguities regarding the role of the chairman of the Board of Commissioners are built into the enabling legislation defining county government in Oconee County passed over the years by the Georgia General Assembly.

The enabling legislation says that the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners is the chief executive officer of the county but says little about what powers the chairman has.

It also makes the chairman a member of the Board of Commissions, giving the chairman a vote only in the case of ties.

The enabling legislation is clear about the role of the Commission. It is responsible for all county matters involving the spending of money.

Horton, Luke, Hale and Daniell said in the runup to the passage of the 2009 legislation they wanted the chairman to be an equal member of the Commission but wanted the day-to-day affairs of the county to be handled by the county administrative officer.

Davis Never Liked Change

Davis made it clear at the time he felt his position was being unfairly restricted, and he has repeated that position during the campaign.

At the candidate forum held on June 21 by the Oconee County Republican Party, Davis and Horton made it clear how far apart their positions remain.

Davis said he tells the other commissioners what they need to know to make decisions, as he has said repeatedly in the past. Horton said Davis does not share what he learns in his capacity as a full-time commissioner, making it difficult for the others to stay abreast of issues in the county

At the BOC meeting on Tuesday night, the continued difference of perspective between Davis and the other four commissioners also was in evidence.

At issue was funding for cost-of-living salary adjustments for staff members in the Superior Court, County Extension and District Attorneys Office. These are state departments, but the county does contribute to the salaries of some of the employees.

The county granted cost-of-living adjustments to county employees in January and on July 1 of this year, including those in the sheriff’s office, but had not included these three state departments.

Davis and the other commissioners agreed that they had discussed giving these employees salary adjustments twice before in executive sessions, where personnel matters are dealt with, including as recently as after the July 10 regular meeting.

Daniell, Horton and Luke said the matter had been settled in those session, with the decision not to grant the increases to these employees.

Davis went public with the fact that the discussion had taken place and the increase had not been agreed to and then brought it up in public at the meeting on Tuesday.

In the end, Davis forced the hands of the other commissioners, who agreed unanimously on the pay increases.

The amount of money was small: A total of $2,451 across all three departments.

Luke and Daniell said Davis was playing politics, trying to gain a few extra votes in the election.

On Tuesday night, voters will have decided if they want the chairman to be a team player with the other commissioners, as Horton says he advocates, or to be a loner who sees himself as a part of the Commission but separate from it, as Davis clearly does.

Regardless of whether voters pick Bell or Luke for Post 1 or Saxon or Gilland for Post 4, however, they won’t have picked advocates for a more docile Commission itself.


Video recordings of the candidate forums held by the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce on June 14, the Oconee County Republican Party on June 21, and Russ Page and me on July 9 and 10 are now available on the Vimeo Site of Oconee County Observations.

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