Walker County sole commissioner referendum coming

Walker County sole commissioner referendum coming

February 17th, 2017 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Walker County, Ga., is closer to changing its form of government.

The state representatives and senator responsible for the county published a notice this week announcing they will push a local act through the Legislature. The act will put a referendum on a ballot in 2018, giving voters the chance to do away with the county's sole commissioner style of government.

The county's current set-up, which allows one elected leader to oversee all avenues of the local government except for law enforcement, has been criticized by a group of politically active residents for years. If passed, the 2018 referendum would create a five-person board of commissioners, with one elected leader working full time as the county executive.

"We looked at various different models," said Walker County Republican Party Chairman Matt Williamson, who created a committee to study options for the local government. "There are advantages and disadvantages to all of them. But we wanted to do something that would be sensible and would make sense to transition to and make it easier."

Some residents have pushed to change the form of government for years. They believed the sole commissioner style gave too much control to one person.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 10/15/15. Senator Jeff Mullis speaks on Thursday, October 15, 2015 to officials and guests who gathered on the Vanguard site in Trenton.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

The LaFayette Underground, an anonymous blog, created an online petition asking for a referendum on whether to change the government in 2014. The petition received 1,800 signatures. But state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, said nobody showed up to meet him with the petition or prove that the people who signed it were Walker County residents.

In 2015, at the county's Republican Party Convention, delegates voted against putting the issue up on a referendum, 57-53. But last May, after the county's GOP leadership put a non-binding referendum on the ballot, 70 percent of voters said they disapproved of the sole commissioner system.

If the local act passes this year, the referendum will be on the 2018 ballot. And if voters approve it, people will vote for multiple commissioners in 2020.

Mike Cameron, who was chairman of the committee studying styles of government, said the referendum would make Walker County like Dade County, where voters pick five commissioners — including one who serves as a county executive. The county executive is like Walker County's sole commissioner, working full time for the county.

But the county executive still needs to pass changes through at least two of the other four commissioners.

"It's kind of a hybrid form," Cameron said. "Also, no government is easy to transfer to. But that seemed to be an easier transition, from a sole commissioner to a board of commissioners."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.