The Newton County Board of Commissioners approved Senate Bill 423 in a special called meeting Monday night. The board's decision paved the way for Newton County's charter to be signed by Governor Nathan Deal.
The legislation passed through the State Senate on March 11 and through the State House with substitutions on March 16. Those substitutions were approved by the Board of Commissioners Monday. The motion passed 4 to 1 with District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson voting against.
When commissioners asked county attorney Megan Martin about the wording of some of the changes made by the State House, she told them that the wording was not final.
“I think there are changes you can make,” Martin said. “Under home rule authority you may amend local legislation.”
Home rule is the board’s ability to govern itself in certain areas. Martin said the board would not be able to make changes like another commissioner, changing district or method in which they are elected under home rule.
However, many parts of the enabling legislation, she said, could be changed.
The enabling legislation, or charter, as submitted to the legislative delegation made Newton County a county manager-led form of government. The document incorporated many of the recommendations made by last year’s citizens committee on the county’s form of government.
Some of the commissioners felt that changes made to that document by the State House, changed the tone of the document to a more county chair led form of government.
“It seems like the state submitted document has gotten away from theme of going to county manager form of government,” District 5 Commissioner Levie Maddox said. “It seems like [the House created] a much stronger, much more powerful county chair [with more] oversite of the total control of operations.”
District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz, however, felt that the board could make the appropriate changes after the document has gone through the state legislature and been signed by the Governor.
“I am comfortable with what we can do after the document is passed,” Schulz said. “I am comfortable moving forward.”
After much discussion with Martin concerning home rule and what could be changed by the BOC, the majority of the board decided they wanted get the legislation passed sooner rather than later. Today is the last day of legislative session. Any changes made to SB 423, at this point, would have to go back through both chambers, something that may not happen due to time constraints.
“My recommendation is going to be to go with what you got and be done with it,” Douglas said. “And anything we want to change, later on we go back and do it.”
District 2 Commissioner Lanier Sims and Schulz were on the board in 2011, when a home rule change moved Newton County to a county manager form of government, albeit a less defined one. Both commissioners agreed with Douglas’s line of thinking.
“Three of us were here in 2011 to a packed house with a lot of emotion as home rule took effect,” Sims said. “Let’s get this on board and get it behind us.”
“Three of us know exactly what it felt like in 2011,” Schulz said. “I’m comfortable moving forward. I’m not taking any more chances on this legislation. We have to have clarity.”
Maddox made the motion to approve as amended Senate Bill 423, with Sims making a second. District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson, who was the other member of the BOC on the board in 2011, was the lone vote against.
Details on the substitutions can be found in the recent News article "State House makes changes to Newton's proposed charter." Click here to read.