BLUE RIDGE, Ga – At the first commission meeting of the new administration, Chairman Jamie Hensley proposed several changes to the format.
Going forward, for a trial period, the meetings will be moved until 6 p.m., instead of 5:15 p.m. The later start time will hopefully give more citizens an opportunity to attend the meetings, which remain on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month.
“You can’t get a good pulse from the citizens if they can’t get here,” Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson commented.
Post Two Glenn Patterson asked if county costs would go up if the meeting moved to a later time. He furthered explained if the meeting was later, would county employees add that as extra time to their workday if asked to attend. He also commented the meeting would start after dark for five months out of the year if moved to 6 p.m. Some older individuals prefer not to drive in the dark, he added.
Hensley stated, “Nobody is able to attend and have the input or anything they might want to say. I want everybody to understand I work for the county, for the citizens of Fannin County…I want to give every opportunity they possibly can.”
Also, public comments will occur at the end of the meeting, not the middle. The time limit for speakers will be extended from three minutes to five minutes. Again, this change will begin on a trial basis.
“I have mixed emotions,” Patterson remarked about public comments. “I know we deal with a lot of things up here. Some things can be very controversial…The way we do it now. We don’t feed the fire. They come up there thinking about what they want to say.”
Patterson believed the middle of the meeting commentary allows for cooler heads to prevail.
“You’re going to get it whether it’s here or right out there, so take your pick,” Johnson said. “In here, it’s usually more reserved, civil, or go right out there and you might hear something that really hurts your feelings.”
Johnson added moving public commentary to the end gives citizens an opportunity to congratulate the board or quickly get something off their chest instead of “stewing” for two weeks.
“I see both sides,” Hensley stated. “I’m always the one if there’s an issue, I want to know now that way we can put the fire out so to speak, and move forward. I know they are things will have to take a step back on, but I always want to move forward.”
The trial period for the meeting time and public comments runs from January through April. After that, the board will decide to make the change permanent or not.
County Clerk Sherri Walker was selected as the interim Chief Financial Officer following the resignation of Robin Gazaway in December.
The board also granted the tax commissioner approval to accept checks, cash, debit, credit cards on behalf of Fannin County and disperse property tax and motor vehicle tax bimonthly. Additionally, the commissioners approved the tax commissioner’s ability to waive interest or penalties for valid reasons.
Commissioners accepted the Division of Family and Children Services budget for 2021.
Two variances were tabled, and one was approved.
Read more about why Post One Earl Johnson is continuing to serve, here.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga: With Post One-elect Johnny Scearce continuing to recover from COVID-19-related illnesses, Fannin County Commissioners discussed the board’s options until he assumes responsibilities.
At this time, there’s not a set timeline for Scearce to take his oath of office and begin his commission term. However, the law is ambiguous about when the oath of office must be administered – in other words, there’s not a deadline.
The most recent legislation concerning election officials in Fannin occurred in 1987, “Fannin County – Compensation, etc. of Board of Commissioners No. 1117.” In the act, it stated, “Thereafter, their successors shall be elected at the general election immediately preceding the expiration of their terms of office and shall take office on the first day of January immediately following their election for terms of four years and until their successors are elected and qualified.”
“Qualified” refers to a commissioner-elect taking the oath of office and being bonded. According to County Attorney Lynn Doss, since Scearce has yet to take his oath, former Post One Earl Johnson remains the commissioner.
“Mr. Johnson has agreed that if needed. He automatically holds over. His term of office doesn’t end until the next person is sworn in,” Doss explained. “He holds over with the same obligations and privileges as he has held for the previous four years to the extent needed, and he desires to and is willing to until Mr. Scearce can be sworn in.”
Chairman Jamie Hensley asked, “Let’s just say that Mr. Johnson decides he would be more than happy to help us. Three weeks down the road, he decides ‘I got out of it for a reason.”
According to Doss, if Johnson decided he didn’t want to continue with Post One duties, it wouldn’t be considered a vacancy because it doesn’t fall under the list of nine types of vacancies described by the state. It wouldn’t trigger a special election period because Johnson’s a “holdover” from the previous board until Scearce assumes his responsibilities.
“Then the two of you would continue on,” Doss asserted. She cited when Tommy Stephens died, the recall election, and other examples when two commissioners presided over the board.
However, none of those individuals were taking a new office at the time. The current situation has never occurred in Fannin County before.
The county attorney stated that the law doesn’t address how many meetings a commissioner can miss either. She cited the Georgia attorney general in 1991, who deemed that after three meetings with no communication as to why someone was absent, they can be “deemed to abandon their job.”
Georgia Code determines vacancies by the following criteria: death, resignation, competent tribunal declares office vacant, voluntary act or misfortune of the incumbent that renders them ineligible, non-citizens of state or county, failure to obtain certificates, commissions, or bond, and abandoning office.
Scearce made great strides to overcome COVID-19 and its related illnesses and would prefer to take the oath in person. If needed, he could obtain a doctor’s note to perform Post One duties remotely, but according to Doss, he physically doesn’t meet the “bodily infirmity” vacancy standard.
Hensley and Post Two Glenn Patterson wished Scearce a continued speedy recovery and prayers to him and his family.