Legislators are elected to the General Assembly to represent the voters in a district. To do that properly, they must communicate with their constituents and choose between conflicting wants or needs of various people.
Walker County’s three elected legislators have recently found themselves in a position of choosing between the voice of many or the demands of a mighty few – on the topic of voting for Sole Commissioner government.
The county’s system of governance, headed by a single elected ruler, is a relic of the past. Sole commissioner leadership may have been appropriate for this area in the 1940’s, but today seems as modern and useful as outhouses and buggy whips. Arguments in support of having a sole leader don’t hold up in light of recent events in the county, and many feel Walker is being left behind because of its antiquated government.
Interest in the topic of sole commissioner surged after last fall’s 69% property tax increase, fueled by existing frustration with the county’s current sole commissioner, Bebe Heiskell. But taxes and the current unpopular commissioner are hardly the only reasons Walker County should be allowed to vote on this issue.
“This is an outdated system that I can not believe is still in effect in this day and age. .. Why would you not want someone looking over the other person’s shoulder to ensure proper handling of the tax payer’s money?? I don’t care who that person is – I would want a co-commissioner.” -Edward Schub, Rising Fawn
Sole-commissioner government at any level invites abuse, because it places ultimate control and decision-making in the hands of one person, without the checks and balances necessary for representative government. (That’s why it’s only used in nine of the nation’s 3,144 counties, and banned in 49 other states) It also undercuts government transparency laws, keeps many in the county from having a voice, and gives incumbent commissioners an almost insurmountable advantage in elections.
Even if the sole commissioner is honest, trustworthy, open, and responsive – the perfect non-political politician – running a county the size of Walker, with its large budget and a population over 60,000, is more job than one person can or should be asked to take on – no matter who that person is.
The county’s charter can be changed to bring in a board of commissioners but the only means of doing that is through legislation, a bill passed through the General Assembly by the county’s delegation. That delegation consists of three elected legislators: Senator Jeff Mullis, Representative Steve Tarvin, and Representative John Deffenbaugh.
None of the three, and none of their recent predecessors (Jay Neal, Martin Scott) have shown any interest in tackling the important sole commissioner issue, and when asked about it (on more than one occasion) have told constituents that there’s no public interest in changing the system – despite the obvious demand and need for it.
To change that mindset, The Underground and a handful of passionate people in Walker County launched a petition last fall asking the legislators to pass a resolution giving citizens a direct vote on keeping or dropping sole commissioner government.
The petition was created online on September 11 of last year, and within a few days had been signed by over 1,000 people. Volunteers going door to door in LaFayette, Rossville, and elsewhere in the county collected hundreds more signatures on paper.
After two months the petition was closed, and the process of consolidating offline and online signatures began. After some delays an edited petition stripped of duplicate names, out-of-county signers, and illegible signatures was prepared – bringing the total to 2,045 valid names spread across a 75-page document.
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