Senator Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), with SB 292, and Representatives Steve Tarvin (R-Chickamauga) and John Deffenbaugh (R-Lookout Mountain), with HB 615, are moving legislation to bring the opportunity to give citizens in Walker County to decide if they want to keep the current sole commission form of government or opt for a multi-member board. The district commissioners would be part-time drawing a $12,000 annual salary with the full-time drawing a salary of the highest paid elected county official plus an additional $500 with an amount that doesn’t exceed $100,000 per year.
This has been a touchy issue for the past 6 or so years with people from LaFayette seeming leading the charge. Under the law as proposed (which will probably end up passing by Sine Die), voters would directly elect a commissioner from their district and the at-large, full-time commission chairman. Currently, voters in Walker County directly elect the sole-commissioner thereby having a 100% affect on their local government. If the proposal is approved in 2018, voters would cede 60% of their current power in favor of directly electing 2 out of 5 members of county government in order to have a more representative county government.
It does diversify the county government with each incorporated city in Walker County being in one district (if you refer to the map above, Lookout Mountain in green, Rossville in blue, Chickamauga in pink, and LaFayette in yellow). The thought is that a commission with part-time commissioners representing the “four corners” of Walker County (my term) and a full-time commissioner handling the day-to-day operations, that we will end up with better government and prevent a single person getting us into the situation.
Will it prevent a single person from controlling everything? Potentially. Will it prevent bad government? Don’t count on it. I’ve stressed this before: voters can elect an excellent sole commissioner and have a good county government as easily as they can elect a board full of awful commissioners and have an awful county government. Voters are the only preventative for bad government. That’s why we have elections.
I’m still on the fence, but I have until 2018 to make up my mind all things being equal. With the majority of citizens living in the northern end of the county versus the southern end, I would not be surprised by a county government dominated by commissioners from the Lookout Mountain, Rossville, and Chickamauga districts. That would give LaFayette’s district the short-end of the stick since the part-time commissioners would be directly accountable to their respective districts. That should put the onus on voters to elect commissioners who will represent their home districts but who understand that their decisions affect all citizens in the county.