The Newton County Board of Commissioners appears to be racing headlong toward a dramatic shift in the way the county government is operated. A majority of the commissioners — Mort Ewing, Tim Fleming and J.C. Henderson — agreed, in principle, Monday night at the board’s work session to pursue this change. The new approach would mean that the position of county administrator would become a county manager position, which would answer only to the Board of Commissioners as a whole. Currently the county administrator answers to the chair and the board.
This change, if it becomes reality, (and it could come up for a vote as early as Tuesday) would, in effect, change the county's form of government to a county manager form, with no input from the voters. It would also effectually invalidate the chairman's authority to oversee the day-to-day operations of the county.
A county manager government is nothing new. It is used in many other jurisdictions with varying degrees of success. The question Newton voters should be asking isn't, "Should we change to a county manager government?" Rather, we should ask: "Why does this need to be done now?" and "Why are the proponents in such a hurry?"
Based on what was said -- and what was left unsaid -- at Monday's meeting, it appears that there are some personality issues underlying this process. Newton County residents deserve thoughtful, reasoned, decision-making from our elected officials, not decisions that are carried on a tide of political undercurrents. We suggest that the Board of Commissioners take a step back, acknowledge that going to a county manager form of government is a significant step that requires more than a week's notice to voters, and go through the process of educating Newton's citizens about what this change would mean and how it might affect them. The fact that three commissioners believe they should make this sweeping change in the makeup of our county government -- absent any public input -- is the height of arrogance.
Yet to be resolved in this debate is whether or not this change would require an amendment to the county's charter. Obviously those who want to vote next week say that won't be necessary. Others don't agree. More time is needed to explore this issue.
As voters, we should be indignant that three members of the Board of Commissioners appear poised to usurp our authority to choose the type of government that we will finance and support.
Whether or not Newton County transitions to a different form of government isn't the primary issue to be addressed right now. Taking this step with no input from the electorate is the issue, and it's the wrong direction to take.