East­side stu­dent wins rare schol­ar­ship

The Covington News - - LOOKING BACK - ROB DEWIG rdewig@cov­news.com

Jabari Ben­nett, a grad­u­ated se­nior from East­side High School, is one of three re­cip­i­ents of the statewide Con­sti­tu­tional Of­fi­cers As­so­ci­a­tion of Ge­or­gia’s $1,500 scholarships. He re­ceived his award at Tues­day’s New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers meet­ing.Ben­nett, of So­cial Cir­cle, plans to at­tend Val­dosta State and ma­jor in busi­ness.

The award is given on be­half of the of­fi­cials au­tho­rized by the state con­sti­tu­tion — the sher­iff, clerk of court, pro­bate judge and tax com­mis­sioner. New­ton County’s of­fi­cials were all present Tues­day.

Fol­low­ing is Ben­nett’s schol­ar­ship-win­ning es­say (ver­ba­tim) on the topic “Who are the lo­cally elected con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cers and what dif­fer­en­ti­ates them from other county of­fices?”

Each of Ge­or­gia’s 159 coun­ties have duly elected con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cers as fol­lows: • Clerk of the Su­pe­rior Court • Pro­bate Judges • Sher­iffs • Tax Com­mis­sion­ers The re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of each of these elected of­fi­cers are very dif­fer­ent and unique to the of­fice. The Clerk of the Su­pe­rior Court is re­spon­si­ble for a va­ri­ety of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties such record­ing, main­te­nance and re­trieval of per­sonal and property tax records, civil and crim­i­nal find­ings, and gen­eral and limited part­ner­ships. The Clerk also records and can­cels Gen­eral Ex­e­cu­tions (Fi Fa’s), process no­tary ap­pli­ca­tions and some even process new pass­ports, re­newals and pass­port pho­tos.

Pro­bate Judges han­dle a va­ri­ety of tasks as well rang­ing from mar­riage li­censes, wills, wid­ows’ years sup­port, mi­nor guardian­ships and the is­suance of weapons carry li­censes.

The du­ties of Ge­or­gia’s Sher­iffs’ are vast. Re­spon­si­bil­i­ties range from pro­vid­ing law en­force­ment ser­vices, main­tain­ing the county jails, and pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity to the courts. They also ex­e­cute and re­turn all pro­cesses and or­ders of the courts in­clud­ing var­i­ous types of sum­mons, Fi Fa’s, gar­nish­ments, etc. Sher­iffs also han­dle home fore­clo­sure sales.

Tax Com­mis­sion­ers are re­spon­si­ble for the collection of real es­tate, per­sonal property and mo­tor ve­hi­cle taxes, pro­cess­ing of home­owner ex­emp­tions, mo­tor ve­hi­cle tags and ti­tles and is­su­ing dis­abled plac­ards. In some in­stances, Tax Com­mis­sion­ers also col­lect taxes for the many city ju­ris­dic­tions in their county. This has proven to be very ef­fec­tive and cost ef­fec­tive for those cities.

While these in­di­vid­u­als are elected by the cit­i­zens of each county to four year terms, they dif­fer vastly from other county of­fices. Firstly, other county of­fices or de­part­ments are of­ten ad­min­is­tered by a county man­ager and over­seen by a Board of Com­mis­sion­ers, whereas con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cers work in­de­pen­dently and re­port to the cit­i­zens to whom they serve.

An­other dif­fer­ence is the sta­tus of em­ploy­ees who work for these elected of­fices. While the em­ploy­ees are con­sid­ered county em­ploy­ees, they of­ten work at “the plea­sure” of the con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cer. This means that many of these em­ploy­ees are not gov­erned by the same civil ser­vice laws that tra­di­tional county em­ploy­ees are un­der. This al­lows the elected of­fi­cers greater flex­i­bil­ity in their hir­ing and ter­mi­nat­ing de­ci­sions. For ex­am­ple, tra­di­tional most county of­fices have a Hu­man Re­sources depart­ment and of­fices un­der the purview of the Board of Com­mis­sion­ers, must em­ploy ap­pli­cants through the HR depart­ment. Con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cers are not bound to uti­liz­ing the county’s HR depart­ment and can choose to hire their staff in­de­pen­dently.

Bud­get­ing is a ma­jor is­sue when deal­ing with con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cers. It is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the Board of Com­mis­sion­ers to pro­vide the con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cers with their bud­gets; how­ever, these elected of­fi­cials must be given a budget in which they can do their jobs. These elected of­fi­cials have a de­gree of au­ton­omy when han­dling their al­lo­cated re­sources with the key be­ing not to ex­ceed their budget which could lead to a vi­o­la­tion of their oath of of­fice. In some in­stances, these con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cers can spend within the con­fines of their budget with­out hav­ing to fol­low spe­cific county guide­lines. Yes, they must fol­low state law, but some­times the coun­ties have much more strin­gent pur­chas­ing guide­lines, how­ever, be­ing a con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cer grants these in­di­vid­u­als greater power in how they spend the of­fices’ monies.

It is crit­i­cal to re­mem­ber that elected of­fi­cers re­port to the cit­i­zens whom elect them and not the Board of Com­mis­sion­ers. This is of­ten a mis­nomer as most cit­i­zens do not re­al­ize this. These in­di­vid­u­als have tremen­dous power but must carry out their duly sworn du­ties. Fail­ure to do so could lead to sys­temic prob­lems for the con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cer and also the county in gen­eral. For ex­am­ple, if the Tax Com­mis­sioner does not col­lect taxes ef­fec­tively and ef­fi­ciently, the county as a whole would suf­fer be­cause of a loss in rev­enue. This would have a snow­ball ef­fect through­out the county as other de­part­ments could suf­fer leading to poor ser­vice and pos­si­ble loss of jobs. Like­wise, if the Clerk of the Su­pe­rior Court does not prop­erly main­tain court or property records, this could lead to lit­i­ga­tion against the county and could uti­lize vi­tal fi­nan­cial re­sources that the county could not af­ford to spend.

In sum­mary, the one crit­i­cal dif­fer­ence be­tween the lo­cally elected con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cers from reg­u­lar county of­fices can be summed in one word “con­trol.” Lo­cally elected con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cers have tremen­dous con­trol over their staff and how they run their of­fices. The Board of Com­mis­sion­ers or county man­ager has lit­tle to no author­ity over them other than pro­vid­ing them with a budget. In some cases this works well and I am sure in oth­ers it does not. I would think it would be in all par­ties’ best in­ter­est to work to­gether for the bet­ter­ment of their lo­cal county.

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