BCC single-member districts to stay put

Debra W. Buehn
Posted 1/31/18

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Don’t look for changes to the structure or make-up of the Clay County Board of County Commissioners anytime soon.

At its Jan. 30 meeting, the county’s Charter Review …

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BCC single-member districts to stay put


GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Don’t look for changes to the structure or make-up of the Clay County Board of County Commissioners anytime soon.

At its Jan. 30 meeting, the county’s Charter Review Commission voted against placing on the November general ballot to allow county voters to decide anything concerning changing how many commissioners there are and whether they should be single-member district representatives or at-large representatives – or a combination of both. Rather, by a vote of 8-3, members of the CRC decided to leave the five commissioners, single-member districts intact.

Eleven members of the CRC were present at the meeting while four of the 15-member group were absent.

Basically, as was said more than once, the old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” came to the front, especially since several CRC members said they hadn’t heard any complaints about the current system or desire for change from the voters.

“I haven’t talked to anyone that has any interest in either going to at-large or increasing it (the size of the county commission), said Larry Kirkman.

Ronnie Coleman echoed Kirkman, saying that since the single-member district model was implemented, there have been six elections and he hadn’t heard any complaints about them or the several commissioners who have been elected since then.

“I don’t think we need it,” he said of making a change to at-large commissioners or a different number of commissioners.

The discussion came about because it was on a list of items CRC members submitted at the beginning of their term back in the fall of 2017. The chairwoman the CRC members had chosen to lead them, Amy Pope-Wells, asked each member to submit a few items they would like to see studied by the CRC during its 2017-2018 term. A discussion of single member district representation versus at-large representation was mentioned by a few people.

The Charter Review Commission meets every four years to review the county’s charter and determine if there are issues that need to be brought before county voters to be revised or amended. The CRC cannot make any changes on its own.

Fifteen members of the community, nominated by the Board of County Commissioners, sit on the committee. Five alternates are also nominated.

Clay County is one of 20 of the 67 counties in the state that are charter counties. Clay County’s decision to become a charter county became effective Jan. 1, 1991, and is governed by what it known as “home rule.” That’s where the county’s charter comes into play as well as the need to review it. The other 47 counties are known as “constitutional counties” and are ruled by state statute.

The single-single member versus at-large districts was named by a few CRC members – one who has since resigned and been replaced – as something to be looked at. Single-member districts have representatives who are elected from the district in which a voter lives. That voter can only vote for the BCC candidate within his or her district. While whoever is elected is considered the first “go-to commissioner” if a person has a problem, the voter can still speak with any other commissioner as well.

The commissioner, who must live in the same district as the voter, and while the commissioner has a special relationship with fellow residents, the commissioner is responsible for the well-being of the whole county and is expected to consider that in each vote taken by the BCC.

CRC members Art Hooker was one member who put the representation item of single district versus at-large on his discussion list. And while he said at Monday’s meeting he still thought the idea of at-large representation was a good one, it wasn’t getting the response from county residents he thought it might.

In talking with a “good,” “diverse cross section of voters,” he had to explain what each type was to some and ended up getting about a 50-50 response.

“Most people weren’t overly passionate about it either way,” he said, adding later, “It’s something that I’m not getting the kind of passionate feedback in the community that I thought I would,” he said.

He also said he sensed that there wasn’t a strong support for the idea or any commission change within the CRC itself. But Hooker, who was one of the three who voted against the motion, was joined by CRC Vice Chairman Charles “Scotty” R. Taylor Jr. in the vote.

Taylor said that while, with the current single-member district, the commissioner can vote to set taxes and create legislation, Taylor can only vote for one of the five.

“I have no say, or vote, with who the representatives are in four of the other commission districts,” he said.

Glo Smith, another CRC member, also voted “no” on the motion, saying she was worried about the growth coming to Clay County and the potential need for more commissioners to help handle the load.

“If we’re going to think about the growth of Clay County, we’ve got to be proactive and prepared,” she said.

While discussion was originally supposed to focus on single-member and at-large districts, it eventually added the number of commissioners and even districts to the mix, due to concerns over growth predicted, especially when the First Coast Expressway opens.

But figures presented by both the CRC’s attorney Wade Vose and Clay County Supervisor of Elections Chris Chambless showed that even though growth is predicted, Clay would still be on the low end of population among similar and nearby counties.

Right now, Clay is at about 203,000 with another 100,000 predicted to come in the next 10 or so years, leaving it on the “low end of the high numbers within the charter counties,” Chambless said.

Citing those types of numbers, CRC member Kim Knapp, who made the motion, said, “Yes, growth is coming. I’m watching it just like everybody else.” But she added, “I’m not sure if we’re in a strategic position to project what might be needed.”

Kirkman took issue with growing government to solve the problem.

“I just don’t equate better government with higher numbers of commissioners. I think that should be based on work load,” he said.

Some were worried about having at-large commissioners because of the higher cost of running an election and the possibility of “special interests” getting involved.

“Not only does it take a lot of money but you’ve got all these big organizations coming to you wanting you to support this and support this and they’ll give you X amount of money,” Coleman said.

The Charter Review Commission will meet next at 7 p.m. Feb. 22.


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