Although electing Campbell would not immediately turn the commissioner's office into a five-person board, she has said that, if elected, her first task would be to approach the Georgia legislature to ask for a county referendum vote to be allowed for the people to determine the type of government they desire.
Heiskell: One person, one point of contact
Heiskell, who is seeking her fifth term as sole commissioner, believes the county would be better served by retaining that form of government.
“If you have a multi-member commission, there’s less responsibility for each of those commissioners. They only represent one area, so unless they’re able to garner the support of the other four commissioners, they don’t get much done,” said Heiskell. “If that’s the form of government where people feel the most comfortable, that’s fine, but it’s very easy to pass the buck.”
Heiskell pointed out that a multi-member board of commissioners could be more expensive to operate than a sole commissioner as well. “The cost associated with it is that you have five people who have salaries, expense accounts, pensions, cars, cell phones, et cetera,” she said.
Furthermore, there are two ways a multi-member commission can function, she said. In the first, which is used by Dade County, a multi-member commission “can have an elected official who serves as chair and is a full-timer,” Heiskell explained. The other option is to have a figurehead-style chairperson, with the more tedious operations of the county delegated to a professional manager, which the commissioners hire into county employ after they are elected.
Walker County inducted its first sole commissioner on January 1, 1941. The county at the time was in such dire financial straights that, according to Heiskell, his first act while in office was to take out a $25,000 bond so that county government could continue to function.
“The grand jury of Walker County asked for a referendum for a sole commissioner form of government because Walker County government was failing as a government and they felt that it needed the strength of one person to have financial stability,” said Heiskell.
The referendum was held in 1939; the election took place one year later. Walker County did have a five-person board of commissioners once again for a small period of time until the 1974 election; it has remained a sole commissioner form of government ever since.
Though it may seem outdated to some, Heiskell believes that a sole commissioner form of government is very effective.
“Bartow County, they just held a referendum in 2008 to see if they wanted a multi-member commission,” she said, “and they chose to go back to a sole commissioner. There’s over 100,000 people in Bartow County; it’s a big place. And he’s done really well.”
Heiskell also feels from personal experience that bringing new industry into an area is much more easily accomplished with a sole commissioner acting as a one-person point of contact.
“In my opinion when dealing with industry they really like dealing with a sole commissioner form of government. And that has been my experience one hundred percent of the time,” she said.
Campbell: Five commissioners, five accountability partners
Campbell believes the ability for five separate commissioners to provide checks and balances for each other far outweighs any pros of having just one point of contact.
“In making big decisions, you can never have too much input,” she said. “It may make the process of a decision longer but I feel that's not a bad thing.
“It puts a lot of weight on the people to actually elect a good representative for their district...I feel those representatives have the task of bringing the ideas and opinions of the people to the board.
“I honestly believe in having more than one person to represent the people, especially with the number of people in this county,” she said.
Should she be elected, Campbell hopes to conduct a study to present to the Georgia legislature detailing how best the county could be split into five equal districts.
“One of the things that people have said is that 'Oh, Chickamauga's going to be this, and Chattanooga Valley's going to be this, we're going to have LaFayette like this.' I don't think that's how we need to divide it,” she said. “I want to hire a company to come in and take a look at how we can divide and redistrict based with city residents and rural residents in the same district. Not so that we have any one city that has any more voice or any people that feel left out.”
Campbell hopes that the legislature, which is not obligated to use a county's study, will nonetheless follow its lead.
“We can do our own study and we can give it to them but that doesn't guarantee that they'll follow it,” she admitted.
Unlike Heiskell, Campbell believes that a five-person board of commissioners could actually cost the taxpayers less, salary-wise, than one sole commissioner.
“You're looking at a minimal expense to the taxpayers,” she said. “It's not like they're going to be making $50,000 a year...It's not a full-time position.”
Campbell hopes to institute a chairperson-style board of commissioners, without the need for an outside manager, though she admits she is open to change should the need arise.
“I believe that person should be elected by the board. That's not set in concrete for me.”
Overall, she sees a change toward a multi-member commission as the best way forward for Walker County. The referendum process in and of itself could take upwards of two years, and Campbell is eager to get started.
“I honestly believe that this is the right time to make this change,” she said.