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Other options floated for changing Forsyth County commission

FORSYTH COUNTY — A week after state lawmakers representing Forsyth announced a likely reconfiguration of the county commission, the commissioners are making their own requests.

District 25 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon of south Forsyth announced at a Dec. 15 pre-legislative breakfast that the delegation would move to add a sixth commissioner, a voting chairman elected on a countywide basis, to the county’s governing body. That chairman could be elected next year and in place by early 2017.

During a work session Tuesday, the commission responded with three separate proposals that Forsyth: revert to countywide voting, which was in place prior to 2010; or expand the commission to seven members; or leave the setup unchanged until after the results of a straw poll of county residents.

The most contentious of the proposals was Forsyth returning to countywide voting for each seat, which was changed after residents voted in a 2008 straw poll to change voting to district only.

The commission’s proposal passed 3-2 with Commissioners Pete Amos and Cindy Jones Mills opposed.

“If we vote on a contentious issue, and there are not a lot of them each year … the population feels like they’d be better represented if they could vote for all of us,” said Commissioner Todd Levent. “They feel that those votes that we’ve taken on contentious issues might have had a different outcome.”

Commissioner Brian Tam said it would likely be more difficult to move back to countywide voting, since it was adopted recently and that it could lead to issues with representation.

"At that time, the commissioner of a certain district was elected and never carried any of the precincts in his district — twice,” he said. “That’s a pretty good argument for saying that we’re disenfranchised.”

For the straw poll option, the matter would need to be added by the local Republican and Democratic parties during their primaries in May. Such a question likely would ask voters their opinion on the number of commissioners and feelings toward creating additional cities.  

The questions to go on a possible poll will be selected in a future meeting.

The commission voted 5-0 to support the motion. Mills said a poll had previously been mentioned by District 51 state Sen. Steve Gooch of Dahlonega.

“If you’re going to do something, the best thing you could do is go back to a straw poll,” she said. “Ask them, would you like to see the county made up of multiple cities … or would you like to see six people on [the commission]? Let 50,000 people answer that question.

“I think [the local delegation is] moving way too fast. I think it’s a knee-jerk to maybe not even 10 percent of the voters.”

If the proposal for a sixth member were approved, the commission also voted to ask for a second at-large commissioner, which would bring the total voting members to seven, and thereby prevent stalemates that could arise with an even-numbered panel.

Though unanimously approved, concerns were brought up that a seven-commissioner setup with two running at large could be too big and the possibility it could heavily favor one district.

“If you make it seven, how will you prevent [that], and maybe this doesn’t need to be prevented? I’d argue that no matter how you divide up the county you can still wind up with one district with three commissioners,” said Commissioner Jim Boff

Selecting the two at-large members from a potential county divide along Ga.400 or Hwy. 20 was brought up during the meeting, though Boff noted that certain districts were on both sides of either corridor.

No county divide was approved, and would need to go through county staff.  

A fourth option — to make no moves until after the 2020 census, then redraw district lines for four districts with one countywide chairman — was also discussed, but not voted on Tuesday.