Just eight Georgia counties are managed by single commissioners. Bleckley, Murray, Pulaski, Towns and Union are the others. Pickens voters opted for a three-member board in 2010 and will be electing commissioners this year.
“Sole commissioners are a dying breed,” said Bartow County Sole Commissioner Clarence Brown, who is not running again after 21 years at the helm.
Running to succeed him are Michael C. Abernathy, Mike Bearden, Tracy A.D. Lewis, Steve Taylor and Tony A. Tidwell. A runoff, if necessary, is planned for Aug. 21.
There is no Democratic candidate, so the winner of the primary will appear alone on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Despite repeated pleas, Brown said “it wouldn’t be fair” for him to endorse one candidate over the others.
“One quality I had that the other candidates won’t have is, I worked for the county for 19 years before I ran,” he said. “So I knew a little bit ... but you really don’t know anything until you sit in the chair and start working, taking day-to-day calls.”
There are winning arguments both for and against the idea of having a single commissioner in charge.
Murray County voters wanted efficiency and an end to contentious deadlocks when they switched to a sole commissioner in 2000 — but they have a straw poll scheduled July 31 to change back to a multi-member board. Bartow voters rejected a change in 2006.
“If you’ve got an honest one-man commission, I think that’s the best,” Brown said. “If you get a bad one, that would be terrible. But, on the good side, then you’ve only got one to get rid of. It’s harder to get rid of five or six.”
Chattooga and Walker counties
Chattooga County’s commissioner races have been lively in recent years, and Sole Commissioner Jason Winters said he’s surprised he has only one challenger in the Democratic primary.
Joe Reed served as the county’s public works director for 16 years under former sole commissioner Jim Parker. He was let go when Mike Dawson ousted Parker in 2004. Winters beat Dawson in 2008.
Reed, who also ran in 2008, said he has the experience needed to improve the county while holding down the costs.
“At our house we’re tightening the belt and I feel like, in our small little county, we have to take better care of our taxpayers’ money,” he said. “That’s a fine young man who’s in there, but I could spend our tax dollars more wisely.”
Winters said he’s made great strides in four years — installing more than 110 miles of water lines, instituting open commission meetings and facilitating industry expansions, including Mohawk’s addition of 500 jobs.
“We have a good record to run on and we’re hoping to continue that,” he said.
Although a Republican has yet to win a Chattooga commission race, Dawson’s son, Dewayne Dawson, will go up against the Democratic primary winner this fall.
In Walker County, Republicans typically hold sway.
Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell is running for a fourth term. She’s being challenged in the Republican primary by G. Paul Shaw, who has said he wants to move the county to a multi-member commission.
There is no Democratic candidate for the Nov. 6 general election.