Three new members joined the Decatur County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday morning: George Anderson, Pete Stephens and Rusty Davis.
At their first meeting of 2015, Decatur County commissioners took the first steps toward changing how their leadership is decided upon. This is important because whoever serves as chairman is expected to preside over board meetings and represent the county government at public events and meetings.
Since 2011, the chairman and vice-chairman are selected upon a rotating basis each year. The most senior member of the board who has not already served as chairman is appointed vice-chairman; the previous year’s vice-chairman is appointed chairman the following year.
For 2015, the chairman of the Board of Commissioners is Dennis Brinson. Before last year’s elections, the next commissioner in line to be vice-chairman was Jan Godwin, who was appointed to fill the unexpired term of former commissioner Earl Perry (who resigned for health reasons at the end of 2012). Because Godwin was defeated by Anderson in a May 2014 primary election, she was no longer eligible, giving Anderson, Stephens and Davis equal qualification to become vice-chairman.
Anderson told us Stephens was selected as vice-chairman upon the general consensus of the other board members.
However, Stephens won’t necessarily become chairman next year, because Decatur County commissioners approved a resolution indicating they would like to go back to being able to vote on both the chairman and vice-chairman every January without any other determining factors.
The resolution asks State Representative Darlene Taylor, who represents part of Decatur, Grady and Thomas counties, to submit local legislation in the 2015 session of the Georgia General Assembly that would change the process of determining Decatur County Board of Commissioners leadership.
Commissioners used to vote on who would be chairman and vice-chairman at the first meeting of January. The method of rotating the chairmanship was approved in 2011 as part of a debate among commissioners about whether the chairman should be allowed to vote (they now can, this was another change made in 2011).
Former commissioner Earl Perry was the last person to be selected chairman before the rotation began. He was elected chairman by a split 3-2 vote in 2010. Former commissioner Palmer Rich, who was in the audience at Tuesday’s meeting, served as chairman from 2006-2009 and before that, the late Marvin Rentz served as chairman from 1999-2005.
Back in 2010, I wrote the following about what it means to be chairman of the Board of County Commissioners:
The role of Board of Commissioners’ chairman is similar to that of mayor of a city, in that he represents the county at a number of public events and has the power to commit the county to contracts with his signature.
However, the role can occasionally confer some parliamentary power to whoever holds it, as the chairman controls who is allowed to speak during meetings and for how long. He also has some influence over directing how the board may conduct its business, such as when (then-chairman Palmer) Rich leaned on commissioners to spend more time on crafting their budget during a crisis in summer 2009.
For more background on issues related to the Decatur County commissioners’ chairman and bylaws, please see a story I wrote in 2010, “Perry Elected Chairman.” (The Bainbridge Post-Searchlight)