Some proposed changes might not serve voters well

Published 2:41 am Tuesday, July 26, 2016

An issue we’ll hear much about in coming weeks is whether or not Covington County voters should continue to elect county commissioners and county school board members with at-large voting, or if the process will be changed.

Both the Covington County Commission and the Covington County Board of Education have passed resolutions asking Rep. Mike Jones and Sen. Jimmy Holley for change.

The county commission is asking for commissioners to be elected by district, with the chairman seeking election county-wide. In other words, Andalusia voters could not influence the election of the commissioner from the Opp area, and vice versa.

Commissioners know that to make this change, district lines must be redrawn.

Scott Farmer of the regional planning commission will help devise a plan. Each district must have approximately the same number of residents – not voters, but residents. How those lines will be drawn remains to be seen. Farmer said his initial thought is to keep residents of a municipality in one district, and he’s been asked to start with existing districts.

Current Commission Chairman Bill Godwin supports the change. Greg White, who defeated Godwin earlier this year and will return to the chairman’s role in November, opposes it. White believes residents are already adequately represented because commissioners must be accountable to voters in each district. Three of the four commissioners who voted in support of the resolution – Kenneth Northey, Joe Barton, and Kyle Adams – will remain on the commission in November. Tony Holmes will take the seat currently held by Elmore. It will be interesting to see if the commission as a whole wants to pursue changes, or will agree with White.

Meanwhile, the county school board wants something vastly different: Just get Andalusia and Opp voters out of their business.

The board’s resolution does not ask for district lines or call for district voting. Members will continue to run at-large (county-wide). But they cannot live in an area served by a municipal school district – i.e., Andalusia or Opp – nor can residents of those municipalities cast votes in county school board elections.

It is totally understandable that the board members seek to not be influenced by voters in Andalusia and Opp. But they should take the extra step and at least require board members to live in districts, as the county commission currently operates. Else, their argument for the need to change – the more populous areas control our board – holds no water. The same premise will be true, only the population base will be different.

Imagine for a moment that their plan was approved. Andalusia and Opp voters would be “carved out” of county school board elections. Based on current enrollment numbers, the Straughn school district is the most populous. Therefore, residents of that district would have a greater voice – and potentially more geographical representatives – in the new at-large elections.

One could argue the relative power of one vote in every countywide board race vs. the power of one vote for one candidate in a smaller district.

At the end of the day, it seems to me that elected officials are held more accountable when there are fewer to whom they must be.