No consensus on 7th commissioner

Published 7:24 pm Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Although most of the six existing Decatur County commissioners agree a seventh commissioner is needed, they differ on the details, meaning any change could take awhile.

At county commissioners’ Tuesday meeting, Commissioner Butch Mosely brought up the suggestion he made at their previous meeting, that county commissioners ask state legislators to introduce a bill making a seventh local commissioner possible.

Mosely and Board of Commissioners Chairman Palmer Rich both have both favor the idea of a seventh county commissioner who would be elected at-large by all registered voters in the county.

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Rich has said he wants to respond to criticism from constituents in his district, which includes part of Bainbridge, that as chairman, he could not cast a vote except in the event of a tie.

However, to get Decatur County’s representatives in the State Legislature to sponsor a change, it would have to be unanimously supported by county commissioners, according to Rich.

Board of Commissioners Vice-Chairman Earl Perry made clear that although he supported looking into the idea of a seventh commissioner, he would not support their at-large election.

“A federal census will be done in 2010, and we’ve got to reapportion [county commissioners’] districts for the 2012 election,” Perry said. “It makes more sense to me to wait until the census information is available.”

Commissioner Charles Stafford agreed with Perry.

“I think the citizens will appreciate us going about this in a deliberate matter instead of responding to pressures that may come back to haunt us,” Stafford said.

Mosely said he thought Perry had favored the idea before Tuesday and asked what had changed.

Perry alluded to commissioners’ previous attempt, which was approved by the state legislature but ultimately scrapped by the U.S. Department of Justice, due to perceptions that it might affect civil rights, according to former county attorney Harold Lambert.

Commissioner Russell Smith said a seventh commissioner “sounds good,” but said he would be interested in that person serving a new district cut out from those that currently exist.

“I would like to get around my entire district; that’s not always possible,” Smith said. “Decatur County has such a large geographic area that it can be prohibitive.”

Ultimately, Perry and Mosely agreed that commissioners should give serious consideration to creating a seventh seat on the board and agreed to discuss the idea at a work session to be held sometime in the near future.