Catoosa voters closed the door to a sole commissioner form of government back in 2002, but the door may have opened a crack following a straw poll July 20.
More than 6,269 voters gave a resounding ‘no’ to the issue in 2002, but 2,952 cast ballots Tuesday saying they want a chance to vote again on the issue, while 2,257 said the issue is dead.
Eleven other Georgia counties have a sole commissioner form of government. Catoosa County had a sole commissioner government in place prior to 1993.
Opponents of the change said residents would lose representation if the five-member board was abolished.
Sole commissioner supporters in 2002 maintained it would be easier and cheaper for one person to oversee the county.
Denny Hooper, former co-chair of the pro-sole commissioner group Concerned Citizens of Catoosa County, declined to make a comment about the results of the new straw poll.
The referendum allowing voters to decide if they would like to change back to a sole commissioner was approved in the spring of 2002 in the state General Assembly after group members collected about 3,400 registered voters’ signatures.
Georgia is the only state that allows sole commissioner governments.
Chairman Winford Long said the results of the straw poll are disconcerting.
Finding the right honest person who would do the right thing with the ability to run a government with a $27 million budget is a very tall order," he said. "I do not think it would be good for a county. It is too big now, and things are not like it used to be."
Commissioner Bobby Winters said a sole commissioner could help get needs of residents met more efficiently.
"I think it would be in the best interest of the county," he said. "I think a sole commissioner would be a good thing. You can still have a county manager. A commissioner needs to get out and visit with the people and see the people’s needs. I go around and check on things, and they never get done. I think it would improve the whole system."
Commissioner Ron Gracy is opposed to a sole commissioner form of government.
"This is a democratic society, and we believe in open debate," he said. "There is a limit or no debate with a sole commissioner."
Commissioner Jim Emberson agrees.
"I don’t think it’s the proper choice, even though it is the most efficient form of government," he said. "It’s the form where the people will not know what’s going on because there is nothing out in the open. The people must stop and realize that with a five-man board, what is happening is in the open and available to the public."
State Rep. Ron Forster (R-Ringgold) said a referendum for sole commissioner can only be put on the ballot during a legislative session.
"We had a referendum (in 2002) which was close, but it lost," he said. "This is definitely something we can study for the next couple of years."News editor Chris Zelk contributed to this article.