By Jason A. Smith
The Henry County Board of Commissioners (BOC) wants to make changes in the way its members are elected.
Under the current system, four commissioners are elected in one four-year-term cycle, and two more are elected in the next four-year-term cycle.
The result is that four commission seats potentially change hands at once, compared with a proposal to evenly divide the seating times of commissioners.
Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis said the proposed change is designed to create a more-balanced election process.
The board, on Tuesday, passed a resolution to adjust the election cycles, to allow for three commissioners' races to be decided per four-year term.
"When the Chairman's position was created in the 1990s, it went in to effect during the same election cycle as Districts I, II and III," Mathis explained. "It was just the timing of the legislation that put it there. Discussions have been had among a few of us, for about a year now, about the need to move one of the Districts in order to have more balance."
The board is seeking to change the term for the District III commissioner to two years for one election cycle, effective Jan. 1, 2013. That commissioner's spot, now held by Randy Stamey, would revert to a four-year term in the following cycle, aligning with those for Districts IV and V.
Changing the cycles, Mathis believes, reduces the risk of difficulties for the county inherent in the current system, and encourages a better turnout at the polls for each election.
"Conceivably, in one election cycle, you could have four brand-new commissioners," Mathis said. "This could be a detriment to the county, as there's a huge learning curve for freshman commissioners. So a 3/3 election cycle makes more sense.
"Additionally, the [U.S.] President is elected on one cycle, and the [Ga.] Governor the next," she continued. "Voter turnout is generally much lower for the Governor's race. By moving District III to the Governor's election cycle, along with Districts IV and V, we hope to see greater voter participation than we've historically seen."
District V Commissioner Bruce Holmes, who was elected in November of 2010 to represent a northern portion of the county, said changing the election process would help it [the county] to run more smoothly.
"Next year, we have four experienced commissioners that we could potentially lose," Holmes said. "If they all lost, we'd be looking at [District IV Commissioner] Reid Bowman, who will have 5 1/2- to- six years' experience, and myself, with 1 1/2 years' experience. I think it was a good move by the chair."
Mathis added that she is confident the county's request will be put into place by state legislators.
"I hand-delivered this legislation to the Capitol [Wednesday]," she said. "There should be no issue with our delegation dropping it, and it being passed. The governor generally signs local legislation on or before July 1."