Local legislation moving in Senate

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

One of Henry County’s best-known artists is moving forward to see his dream for the entire arts community come true.

A bill impacting Henry County government operations passed the Georgia House of Representatives last week and now moves to the Senate, where an alternate bill has just been introduced.

House Bill 554, which was signed by all members of the county’s House delegation and passed March 11, is now in the Senate, where it will likely be voted on this week or early next week.

It was in committee as of Friday, which was Crossover Day at the Georgia General Assembly, when bills move from one chamber to the other.

State Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-17) said Friday that he will be taking the bill to the Senate to try to get it passed.

The bill addresses the roles of the Henry County Board of Commissioners, its chair and the county manager, all of which have been debated in recent months.

Current chairman Tommy Smith filed suit against the rest of the board in an attempt to clarify what those roles are, and the board passed a resolution in December asking the legislature to do the same thing.

Only two state senators represent Henry County - Jeffares and Emanuel Jones (D-10). Last week Jones introduced Senate Bill 219, the purpose of which is the same as the previous bill but with some distinct differences.

The key point of contention that led to the lawsuit and the resolution has been the extent of Smith’s authority relating to that of county manager Jim Walker and various department heads and employees. Both bills give specific guidelines for the roles of each position.

According to the house bill, the chairperson shall “serve as a voting member of the board of commissioners; serve as presiding officer over meetings of the board of commissioners; execute such documents and instruments as are approved by the board of commissioners; after consultation with the county manager, submit to the board of commissioners an annual budget for consideration and adoption by the board of commissioners; see that the ordinances, resolutions, and regulations of the board of commissioners and the laws of the state are faithfully executed and enforced; coordinate intergovernmental activity between the county and municipalities, other counties, other political subdivisions, and state and federal agencies; with the other members of the board of commissioners, initiate the assessment of the needs of the county, evaluate county services, and develop the policies of the county; represent or designate an individual to represent Henry County at ceremonial functions; and have the power to delegate in writing to a member of the board of commissioners who accepts any of the powers of chairperson.”

The senate bill uses different language, stating that the chair’s should “see that all laws and ordinances of the county are faithfully executed; appoint and remove all officers, department heads, and employees of the county except as otherwise provided in this Act; exercise supervision over all executive and administrative work of the county and provide for the coordination of administrative activities; prepare and submit annually to the board of commissioners a recommended operating budget and capital budget; submit to the board of commissioners at least once a year a statement covering the financial conditions of the county and from time to time such other information as the board of commissioners may request; recommend to the board of commissioners such measures relative to the affairs of the county, improvement of the government, and promotion of the welfare of its inhabitants as the chairperson may deem expedient; require any department or agency of the county to submit written reports whenever the chairperson deems it expedient; perform such other duties as may be required by law, this charter, or ordinance; participate in the discussion of all matters brought before the board of commissioners and vote on all questions and matters before the board of commissioners; and sign as a matter of course all written contracts, ordinances, and other instruments executed by the county which by law are required to be in writing.”

The complete text of both bills can be found on the state’s website.

Jones said Friday that he presented his bill after consulting legislative counsel to find “the most traditional form of government” for municipalities in Georgia. His purpose was to create a dialogue in the community and “give the constituents in Henry County a chance to weigh in, something that hasn’t happened yet.”

He added that he is in no hurry to see either bill pass. “I’m not rushing,” he said, “unlike my colleagues in the House.”

As local legislation typically requires unanimous approval of the legislative delegation, Jones’ bill cannot move forward in the Senate unless Jeffares signs on as well.

Smith did not comment on the most recent developments, directing all such inquiries to his attorney.

A town hall meeting has been scheduled for Thursday, March 19, at 7 p.m. in the county administration building’s community room. Jones is expected to attend that meeting, discuss the legislation and receive comments from citizens.