A Few Thoughts On Local Government Structure In Walker County

Walker County Republicans will be asked a question: “Should the form of county government in Walker County be changed from a sole commissioner to a board of commissioners?”  It’s been an 800 pound gorilla since my stent as Walker County Republican Party chairman four years ago.

I’m still undecided, but I’m leaning towards no because 1.) either form of government won’t prevent poor government (if you elect crappy officials, you get crappy government) and 2.) the issue has become more about who occupies the office (and that’s what primaries are for) rather than debating the merits of both structures.

I say that seeing Murray County reverting back to a sole commission and Bartow County with a large population, and they’re actually doing pretty well from what I see.  Murray landed an inland port a few months ago, and Bartow seems to be doing pretty well.  I see the benefits of a sole commission.  A single negotiator and not having to deal with multiple agendas from multiple commissioners.

I also see the merits of multiple commissioners.  Different ideas from different areas of the county, and hopefully keeps a balance of power between the elected county officials….and then you see what’s going on in DeKalb County.

I see the sole vs. multi-member commission in a similar vein to term limits of congressmen: an instant cure-all for the ills of our government.  I’m sure that advocates say that they understand it’s not a silver bullet, at least, I hope so.  I have until the 24th to make up my mind, and I’m open to hearing pros and cons to both beyond “we don’t like the current officeholder.”

Walker County has major financial issues that will probably get worse before they get any better.  For instance, the ruling last week that said Hutcheson Medical Center owes Chattanooga-based Erlanger over $36 million.  Walker County taxpayers will be owing a portion of that, so I’m bracing for an increase in my property taxes.

We have two fresh faces on the Republican ballot for commissioner this year.  Personally, I believe one candidate has a pretty good understanding of our county’s problems and the other wants to blame our county’s Republican Party for his lackluster, single-issue (sole vs. multi-member commission) campaign.  The victor from that race will face our incumbent Republican-turned-Independent commissioner for the General Election.

I intend to vote Republican this fall.

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Dave BearseWill Durantchuck shiflettMatt Williamsonblakeage80 Recent comment authors
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Saltycracker
Saltycracker

Excellent analysis. The sole commissioner has a staff and department heads. Elect the right commissioner and the staff and dept heads become better. Better to have expectations on the departments, good ones will rise to the responsibility and serve the people. I am very suspicious of bureaucracy but we have to serve the community efficiently and it has to be managed. Elect the wrong commissioner, one, it comes apparent very fast, or five allows obfuscation for the commissioner and the dept heads. I’d suggest hiring a professional county manager at some population level with a sole commissioner before adding part… Read more »

IrishPat
IrishPat

The argument is that multi-person commission prevents abuse of power. In my experience having lived in Gwinnett, where commissioners in the past have gone into federal confinement, been indicted and/or resigned to avoid indictment, that reasoning holds little credibility. Now living in Union County governed by a sole commissioner, I believe delivers more efficiencies and effectiveness with one big caveat. You had better select the right sole commissioner and that puts pressure on the voters to do their due diligence during an election. I think Sole Commissioners can be effective in counties up to 75K in population. Beyond that point… Read more »

blakeage80
blakeage80

I wonder if you’d get better results, particularly for a sole commissioner, if it was a non-partisan election.

Matt Williamson
Matt Williamson

There are very good reasons why only eight counties in the country still use the sole commissioner form of government. Separating the legislative and executive functions from each other provides a forum for deliberation that prevents bad ideas from being implemented quickly. It is the model we have favored for our national, state and local governments with the exception of the sole commissioner form of government. One election, one bad sole commissioner, can create problems that last a very long time. It is also a highly specialized office that is not conducive to easy transitions between administrations. Having a board… Read more »

Saltycracker
Saltycracker

Well said and worth reading twice. That said, I have rarely seen a committee run an efficient operation. Good department heads are the continuity. The BOC herds the cats and keeps them in the right direction. It gets back to electing the right folks while the odds of efficient small government wane with layers or multiples of authority.

chuck shiflett
chuck shiflett

Bartow County didn’t “revert” back to a sole commissioner method of government. It has been that way for almost 100 years. Also, the population of Bartow County is over 103,000… much too large to have a sole commissioner. I would love to see the legislature change state law so that once a county reaches 100k in population, it must change from a sole commissioner to a board of commissioners form of government. Here in Bartow there are no public work sessions where citizens can get a sense of upcoming issues to be voted on. We don’t even get a heads… Read more »

Will Durant
Will Durant

Comparisons are difficult given the variance between the counties of the many degrees of control between full-time elected officials, part-timers, and non-elected bureaucrats. Contrary to popular sentiment I will take a well-trained bureaucrat over an elected know nothing, or one appointed by same almost every time. Unfortunately due to the spoils system an expert bureaucrat is an oxymoron to most of us. As for the elected officials I’m not sure you want to boil it off to a single point of failure. Gwinnett’s failure in the past was the understanding that each commissioner stayed out of the other one’s patch.… Read more »

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

“A single negotiator and not having to deal with multiple agendas from multiple commissioners.”

That’s not what happened with the Braves in multi-Commissioner Cobb County.