Perry elected chairman

Published 2:15 pm Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Decatur County commissioners elected a new chairman Tuesday but agreed to try changing how they are chosen in the future.

Decatur County commissioners elected a new chairman Tuesday, but agreed to try changing how they are chosen in the future.

By a 3-2 vote, County Commissioner Earl Perry was elected chairman of the Decatur County Board of Commissioners at their Tuesday morning meeting.

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Perry was supported in his bid to be chairman by commissioners Charles Stafford and Russell Smith, who were elected to the board in 2008. Commissioners Butch Mosely and Gary Phillips voted for Palmer Rich to retain his role as chairman but were unsuccessful.

After swapping seats with Rich and taking his place at the center of the dais, Perry recognized Rich for having served as chairman for the past four years. Rich had taken over as chairman following longtime Commissioner Marvin Rentz’ retirement from the board. Rentz served as chairman from 1999-2005.

By unanimous vote, Mosely was elected as vice-chairman, a role he formerly held but lost to Perry in 2009, by the same 3-2 vote which saw Perry elected chairman on Tuesday.

Commissioners will seek to change bylaws

In another important decision on Tuesday, Decatur County commissioners mutually agreed to instruct county attorney Brown Moseley to draft proposed state legislation that would change their bylaws regarding the chairman’s role.

Before the vote on the new chairman, Commissioner Mosely asked the other five commissioners to state their opinion on a proposal for the chairman’s role to rotate between all of them.

In 2005, commissioners were split 3-3 on whether to select Perry or Rentz as chairman. The matter was resolved in Rentz’ favor when County Attorney Harold Lambert interpreted the board’s rules to state that the nominee with the longer service as commissioner won a tie vote.

Mosely also asked for a straw poll on the issue of whether the chairman should be allowed to vote on a regular basis. Under current bylaws, the board of commissioners chairman may not vote himself, except in the event of a tie.

Some citizens, including Mosely, have complained that they are not fairly represented if the commissioner from their district becomes chairman and is thus unable to vote on most county business.

As recently as March 2009, commissioners were split on the chairman’s ability to vote, as well as the related issue of whether their board needed a seventh, possibly at-large member.

But on Tuesday, commissioners unanimously agreed with both of Mosely’s suggestions. Georgia’s representatives in the state legislature will have to submit and support passage of a bill to allow the change in procedures.

Perry told The Post-Searchlight that while the method of rotating the chairmanship hasn’t been decided upon, it has been suggested it be rotated by their length of service on the board.

What being chairman means

The role of Board of Commissioners’ chairman is similar to that of mayor of a city, in that he represents the county at a number of public events and has the power to commit the county to contracts with his signature.

However, the role can occasionally confer some parliamentary power to whoever holds it, as the chairman controls who is allowed to speak during meetings and for how long. He also has some influence over directing how the board may conduct its business, such as when Rich leaned on commissioners to spend more time on crafting their budget during a crisis in summer 2009.

Three notable examples of a board chairman splitting a tie vote have occurred in local government within recent years.

In February 2005, county commissioners were split 3-3 over the hiring of a new county attorney to succeed Lambert, who resigned after a long period of service in the role. The deadlock was only resolved after the issue was brought up at a later meeting with one commissioner absent, resulting in a 3-2 vote.

In November 2005, the late Bill K. Reynolds, then mayor of Bainbridge, broke a tie 3-3 vote at the Bainbridge City Council over where the city’s marina would be constructed.

In Spring 2009, then-Mayor Mark Harrell broke a tie vote at City Council to hold a scaled-down Fourth of July concert, instead of canceling it completely.