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Opinion: Ten-member county commission idea is bad for Gwinnett

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NOV. 12, 2021  |  All of Gwinnett was surprised this week when Republican Sen. Clint Dixon proposed a bill that would radically change the form of government for Gwinnett County.

The proposal had two main provisions:

  • One would increase the number of county commissioners from five to ten.
  • The second provision would require that school board members seek office in nonpartisan elections.

This surprise legislative proposal was not done in consultation with the county commission or school board.  It was a bolt out of the blue by Senator Dixon, though it was cosigned by Gwinnett Republican house members Timothy Barr, Chuck Efstration, Tom Kirby and Bonnie Rich. (Interestingly, Republican Rep. David Clark was not listed as signing onto the proposition.)

The proposed change is bad legislation. There are several reasons why.

If this was being discussed in a court, the number one reason to kill this proposal resides in its numbers. Having ten members on the commission does not necessarily equal a better commission. If nothing more, old-timers can remember when the Atlanta City Council had 18 members, and for sure, they were the worst governing council in Georgia. More is not better.

Why does a bigger commission not result in better government?  Senator Dixon tried to make it seem like representing approximately 100,000 people is easier than representing roughly 250,000 Gwinnett residents, and generally, that’s true. But essentially, there’s not much difference, for either way, you represent an awful lot of people, and it’s a tough job. 

For sure, it’s much easier for a governmental body itself to work with fewer people than lots of people. Just try to get agreement among any five people: that’s hard. Working with 10, it’s much more difficult. The proposal would by definition mean that Gwinnett would have a less efficient, more confusing government with 10 commissioners, instead of five. 

The Dixon proposal would also strip the county-wide elected commission chair of having a vote in day-to-day matters, unless there was a tie. Stripping the chairman of a vote means that the one person on the commission who is elected by the entire population, the chairman, would virtually have little, if any, voice in routine deliberations. Recognize that this would come while the chairman would be the only full-time member of the commission. This “weak chairman” form of governing has been proven to be unsuccessful in other jurisdictions. We don’t need it in Gwinnett.

You notice that Senator Dixon does not tackle a major problem on the commission?  The inadequate salary of the chairman is something that the Gwinnett delegation needs to change.  The current full-time salary of the chairman is $74,266. It needs to be in the range of $200,000, as other chairs in the Metro Atlanta area are paid.

Finally, let’s address the other Dixon proposal of non-partisan election of School Board members. On the face of it, the idea makes sense, “removing it from politics.”

But don’t you worry: you can’t remove politics from politics, no matter how you label it. If a candidate for the School Board had ever contributed the first dime to any party candidate, or had voted this way or that way in political races, that potential candidate would be labeled as a member of this or that political party. You paint the person as a party member. Non-partisan would be a good move, but it would not take politics out of the game.

As for the Dixon proposal, it will face rough sledding locally. It would be great for the entire Gwinnett delegation to work together for better government. The way Senator Dixon has dropped this idea, that probably won’t happen.

Reprinted with permission from  November 12 edition of GwinnettForum

Editor, Relevant Links:

Gwinnett Daily Post Story

Move to expand Gwinnett County Commission comes under partisan fire [Capital Beat]

Gwinnett invites public to share redistricting thoughts [AJC]

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