December 5, 2007


The "Public Hearing" on the County Charter was held at the December BOC meeting.  Copies of the proposed Charter had to be made and passed out during the meeting.  As often happens, the public didn't have the copies in time to read ahead of time--and it is likely the Commissioners didn't either unless they received it via email over the weekend and took time to read it.  The Charter was not available at any time for public inspection before the discussion started.

Public comments on the Charter centered on  the "mileage" issue.  Comm. Bernard was adamant that Commissioners be paid the same way as county employees.  He was told by a citizen that a Commissioner is elected, while an employee is hired by the County, and to equate an elected office with the county employees was comparing apples and oranges. 

Several people attending pointed out that Commissioners should only be reimbursed for OUT OF COUNTY TRAVEL to prevent abuse.  As was stated in the meeting it is possible for ANY travel by a commissioner to be "official business." All they have to say is that they talked to someone about their road, garbage, taxes, or whatever. Comm. Johnson seemed to think that the "Commissioners could supervise themselves" so there would be no abuse. 

Comm. Pennamon stood firm and said it should be ONLY for out of County travel and he wanted it stated as such in the Charter.  Comm. Bernard would not budge from his position--he wanted it to be in the personnel policy (that often isn't followed); therefore, the vote was NOT unanimous but 4-1.  Comm. Hill stated during the discussion that he thought they should not be reimbursed for in-county mileage; yet voted for it anyway.  (This seemed to be part of the "back room deal"--the Bernard, Hill, Yarbrough coalition for voting.) 

Citizens should remember one of Comm. Bernard's first acts as Commissioner.  He and Comm. Yarbrough both turned in mileage reimbursements for attending their own swearing in ceremonies, with more requests for reimbursements to follow before both TWG and the Monticello News reported it.  Comm. Bernard then had his fax/telephone line reimbursed for months with the excuse that it was for "only county business." 

Sources indicate that Comm. Bernard rarely frequents the Courthouse - it seems to be too far for him to drive to sign checks and pick up his meeting packet.  TWG is aware of several instances when Comm. Bernard was Chairman that he had county employees bring checks to his house for him to sign while the employee waited. 

How much extra could a Commissioner add to his salary in mileage reimbursement?  Comm. Bernard lives approximately 25 miles round trip to the Courthouse.  Using the new Federal mileage rate of 50c a mile, he would get $12.50 a trip.  TWG suspects that Comm. Bernard will be able to find the time to sign checks and even pick up his meeting packet if he gets reimbursed--he might even travel into other areas of his District if he can claim mileage reimbursement.  Even Comm. Yarbrough might show up at the courthouse on days other than meeting days.

There didn't seem to be much opposition to the Salary increase, doubling the current salaries for Commissioners.  One citizen did tell the Commissioners that most people didn't get raises unless they earned it, and in his opinion they certainly hadn't earned a 100% increase.  Comm. Pennamon stated, "We have just instituted a 100% increase on our salary. If we can't use that to come to town and to check on our district something is wrong." 

The BOC voted 5-0 to submit the Charter to the State Legislature for approval -- including the controversial "mileage reimbursement." Comm. Hill said, "I think that Cole is OK [with it].  His only concern was the compensation--the salary." The County Attorney said all he wanted was resolution voted on unanimously to submit to Legislature.  Citizens understood the "unanimous" vote meant on all parts of the Charter; not just the submittal.

We shall soon see just what Rep. Cole and Senator Grant think about this controversy.  Since the "public hearing" was not held at a time the public could really attend nor were the documents made available ahead of time, you can contact 
Rep. Cole at  jmalcolmcole@hotmail.com  or 404-651-7737 or 478-957-2544 
and Senator Grant at johnny.grant@senate.ga.gov or 404-656-0082 or 478-452-1427.  Leave them a message with your comments.




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