BOC ap­proves bill for charter leg­is­la­tion

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - BRYAN FAZIO bfazio@cov­

New­ton County’s en­abling leg­is­la­tion has been passed by the state leg­is­la­ture.

The county’s new charter, la­beled Se­nate Bill 423 when it was pro­posed in the State Capi­tol, re­ceived a vote of 44 years and one no — by Dahlonega Sen­a­tor Steve Gooch — in the fi­nal day of the leg­is­la­ture Thurs­day.

It was the sec­ond time the bill went through the se­nate. The bill was passed by the se­nate on March 11, be­fore a sub­sti­tute was ap­proved by the House on March 16.

That sub­sti­tute bill was then ap­proved by the New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers in a spe­cial called meet­ing Mon­day night. The vote was 4 to 1 with Dis­trict 4 Com­mis­sioner J.C. Hen­der­son vot­ing against. The board's de­ci­sion, and ap­proval by both cham­bers of the house, paved the way for New­ton County's charter to be signed by Gover­nor Nathan Deal.

The bill went back to the Se­nate Thurs­day af­ter com­mis­sion­ers dis­cussed and voted on the changes made by House mem­bers.

When com­mis­sion­ers asked county at­tor­ney Me­gan Martin about the word­ing of some of the changes made by the State House, she told them that the word­ing was not fi­nal.

“I think there are changes you can make,” Martin said. “Un­der home rule au­thor­ity you

may amend lo­cal leg­is­la­tion.”

Home rule is the board’s abil­ity to govern it­self in cer­tain ar­eas. Martin said the board would not be able to make changes like an­other com­mis­sioner, chang­ing dis­trict or method in which they are elected un­der home rule.

How­ever, many parts of the en­abling leg­is­la­tion, she said, could be changed.

The en­abling leg­is­la­tion, or charter, as sub­mit­ted to the leg­isla­tive del­e­ga­tion made New­ton County a county man­ager-led form of gov­ern­ment. The doc­u­ment in­cor­po­rated many of the rec­om­men­da­tions made by last year’s cit­i­zens com­mit­tee on the county’s form of gov­ern­ment.

Some of the com­mis­sion­ers felt that changes made to that doc­u­ment by the State House, changed the tone of the doc­u­ment to a more county chair led form of gov­ern­ment.

“It seems like the state sub­mit­ted doc­u­ment has got­ten away from theme of go­ing to county man­ager form of gov­ern­ment,” Dis­trict 5 Com­mis­sioner Le­vie Mad­dox said. “It seems like [the House cre­ated] a much stronger, much more pow­er­ful county chair [with more] over­site of the to­tal con­trol of op­er­a­tions.”

Dis­trict 3 Com­mis­sioner Nancy Schulz, how­ever, felt that the board could make the ap­pro­pri­ate changes af­ter the doc­u­ment has gone through the state leg­is­la­ture and been signed by the Gover­nor.

“I am com­fort­able with what we can do af­ter the doc­u­ment is passed,” Schulz said. “I am com­fort­able mov­ing for­ward.”

Af­ter much dis­cus­sion with Martin con­cern­ing home rule and what could be changed by the BOC, the ma­jor­ity of the board de­cided they wanted get the leg­is­la­tion passed sooner rather than later. Thurs­day was the last day of leg­isla­tive ses­sion. Any changes made to SB 423 would have to go back through both cham­bers, some­thing that may not hap­pen due to time con­straints.

“My rec­om­men­da­tion is go­ing to be to go with what you got and be done with it,” Dou­glas said. “And any­thing we want to change, later on we go back and do it.”

Dis­trict 2 Com­mis­sioner Lanier Sims and Schulz were on the board in 2011, when a home rule change moved New­ton County to a county man­ager form of gov­ern­ment, al­beit a less de­fined one. Both com­mis­sion­ers agreed with Dou­glas’s line of think­ing.

“Three of us were here in 2011 to a packed house with a lot of emo­tion as home rule took ef­fect,” Sims said. “Let’s get this on board and get it be­hind us.”

“Three of us know ex­actly what it felt like in 2011,” Schulz said. “I’m com­fort­able mov­ing for­ward. I’m not tak­ing any more chances on this leg­is­la­tion. We have to have clar­ity.”

Mad­dox made the mo­tion to ap­prove as amended Se­nate Bill 423, with Sims mak­ing a sec­ond. Dis­trict 4 Com­mis­sioner J.C. Hen­der­son, who was the other mem­ber of the BOC on the board in 2011, was the lone vote against.

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