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Proposal would expand Forsyth commission to include an elected chairman
Williams - photo by FCN file photo

FORSYTH COUNTY — A state lawmaker from Cumming is planning to introduce legislation that would add a new member to Forsyth County’s governing body.

If approved, the sixth member of the county commission would be a chairperson elected countywide — with five commissioners still chosen by district — and have certain duties different the others.

The bill Republican state Sen. Michael Williams is proposing will not be considered until the 2016 session of the Georgia General Assembly. If the measure is approved, the earliest voters could choose a chair would be next year’s general election.

Under the present setup, the commissioners vote amongst themselves to determine a chair, who serves in the post for a year at a time.

What Williams has proposed appears to be a compromise between the commission’s current configuration and the pre-2010 version, in which commissioners had to live in the district they represented but were all elected countywide.

Williams described the change, which would be the second to the commission in about seven years, as a system of checks and balances for the county.

“The government is set up differently on the state level than the judiciary, the executive and your legislative branches,” he said. “We just don’t have that on any county level, and I was just trying to point out that many people don’t like only having the ability to vote for one commissioner.

“When I talked to them about why it’s OK for our state and federal government, that’s what they bring forward. They can vote the president they can vote the governor, but they don’t have anybody in that position.”

Per the change, the chair would be a full-time position with an annual salary of $100,000. The chair would have to be at least 25 years old, have lived in the county for at least a year and hold a baccalaureate degree. He or she could not be employed elsewhere.

The chair would also only be able to vote to break a tie or cause one, thus killing the motion. 

Williams said the legislation, which is not set, would not require approval from county voters but could be a conversation starter.

“Just talking to all the constituents, all the citizens, the three town hall meetings we’ve had [last fall], plus lots of other private conversation with people, there’s a lot of discontent out there,” he said.

“I believe this a possible solution. It’s not in stone, but I think it’s a good starting point for us to continue the discussion throughout the summer and fall.”

The commission’s current chairman, Pete Amos, said he hadn’t heard about the bill until he saw a legal advertisement for it in Sunday’s edition of the Forsyth County News. He has since talked to Williams.

Amos said the changes to the commission, along with the proposed creation of a city of Sharon Springs in south Forsyth, would likely raise the county tax rate.

“No one from our state legislative [delegation] had contacted us about anyone dropping the bill,” Amos said. “If we do have a full-time [chair and] pay what he’s going to pay, with benefits and stuff, and even having another city, our taxes are going to go up.”

Amos added that the county is in its best fiscal shape in years, and didn’t understand the effort to change the setup.

“To me it’s a strange bill,” he said. “We’ve got the No. 1 county just about in the state of Georgia with everything. We’ve got a great board of commissioners. We’re still growing. We’re zoning things at almost the lowest units per acre that we’ve done in 10 years or better… houses are up.

“I just don’t see what the state thinks we’re doing so wrong.”

If successful, the change would the second to the commission since 2009. The present setup resulted from legislation approved that year and first applied in the commission races in 2010.

The state legislative delegation backed the move in 2009 after the results of a 2008 primary question.

Both the local Republican and Democratic parties had asked voters that year if the county charter should be "revised to provide that county commissioners and school board members be elected by the voters in their respective districts."

Nearly 86 percent of Democrats and nearly 73 percent of Republican voters said "yes."