Changing The Form Of Walker County Government, Again
This article also appears on NorthwestGeorgiaNews.com and in the Catoosa News Walker County Messenger opinion pages.
Just a few minutes before 5:00 on Monday, May 23rd, the Walker County Facebook page and website posted the updated agenda for the meeting scheduled for this Thursday, May 26th. Here is what was added:
Request by District 1 Commissioner Robert Blakemore and District 2
Commissioner Mark Askew to modify the originally published agenda to
hear a presentation by attorney Ken Jarrad, secondary council, concerning
the hiring of a County Manager
This is no doubt shocking to anyone who was part of the more than 80% majority that voted in 2018 to create the government we have today, and that isn't even 18 months old yet. Even so, it seems that two district commissioners arranged for a presentation to take place at the next meeting to propose major changes for Walker County.
I must point out that the attorney will not just talk about hiring a county manager as the innocuous wording on the agenda implies. There is a two-page document in the agenda packet which explains the plan in greater detail. From the first paragraph, there is no doubt what the proposal is. The proposal is to change the form of government in Walker County.
In essence, the attorney is proposing to pass resolutions that will strip the chairperson (Shannon Whitfield) of administrative powers and of management of day-to-day functions.
In the document, we see a breakdown of new authority and power divisions under the proposed change. Two items listed on the county manager's administrative responsibilities caught my attention:
3. Exercise administrative authority and supervision over all county departments and personnel under the jurisdiction of the Board of Commissioners;
6. Serves as a liaison between the Board of Commissioners and the public by responding to inquiries and resolving conflicts;
Initially, I didn't understand why changing forms of government was being discussed, but now I do. According to the enabling act that was voted on and passed with more than 80% voter support:
The board shall exercise only those administrative powers which are necessarily and properly incident to its functions as a policy-making or rule-making body or which are necessary to compel enforcement of its adopted resolutions.
Having read item three and now this passage from the enabling act, it is abundantly clear why the district commissioners deem a county manager reporting directly to the them to be ideal and prefer the change. Currently, the district commissioners lack authority over day to day operations and personnel issues. Under the proposed change, the county manager would be under the jurisdiction of the board of commissioners. Any administrative functions and personnel matters would be under the commissioners' purview.
If this happens, we might as well throw out the whole system and have a sole commissioner again. The proposal would destroy the separation of powers in Walker County.
Under the enabling act, the board primarily functions as a rule-making and policy-making body. Similar to congress, they act as a legislative body. Meanwhile, the chairperson's job is to run the day-to-day activities. The chairperson is the executive authority, like a president. Separation of powers has been the backbone of our government at all levels for more than two centuries. This is what has separated us and made our system of government exceptional.
Commissioners Askew and Blakemore seemingly fail to grasp that their role entails making policy and rules, as well as setting long term objectives and plans. They may want to handle administrative and executive functions but the powers are separated for a reason, as voters intended. Alternatively, they don't care about the separation of powers nor the thousands of voters who voted for the particular form of government we have today.
However, let's ignore all of that for a moment and assume that the type of government being proposed would be a good idea and would be effective. The commissioners could change the government form, but should they do so without a popular vote? It may be legal to do so, but should it be done that way?
I think not.
Furthermore, it seems the discussions of this proposal were in progress when Askew and Blakemore qualified for their respective primary elections without receiving any challengers. It is also convenient that the presentation of the proposal and possible vote at the following meeting will take place just before the June qualification deadline for independent candidates, preventing an independent challenger from getting on the ballot to challenge them in November.
I will not mince words.
This proposal is an unbridled assault upon the will of Walker County citizens. It is a subversive plot to seize administrative and executive powers that voters expressly did not intend the board to possess. It must be stopped.
Justice Scalia discusses separation of powers: