State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine), who previously served as a Baldwin County commissioner, hopes to add a fifth commissioner seat in the form of a full-time chairman who would be elected in 2024. But not everyone is in favor of that plan.
The commission is currently made up of four members, which Elliott said is an inefficient structure.
"The whole structure is just odd. It's the only place in the state where there are four members on the county commission," Elliott told 1819 News. "And obviously, four is an even number so that can pose some problems."
Elliott plans to introduce his bill in the coming weeks. He said there is proof the idea of a countywide-elected, full-time, non-rotating chairman works.
"Madison County is a good example," Elliott said. "And it is pretty equal with our growth and innovation. Dale Strong was chairman of Madison County Commission for a long time. A chairman is like a CEO."
Commissioner 1 James "Jeb" Ball told 1819 News in an email, "All 4 Commissioners are highly opposed to this piece of legislation. We stand unified on this topic."
Commission vice-chair Billie Jo Underwood confirmed that stance when she spoke on the phone with 1819 News. Underwood said she hadn't identified any problems with how things are now.
"I don't know of one single issue that has happened, especially since I've been a commissioner, that was a major deal," she said. "There have been no major deals that have not happened because of that. I don't know where this is coming from. Obviously, we didn't ask for it, and we are a unified commission."
Elliott said there have been issues. He claimed there were county employees who were in director positions that went without a contract because the commission could not agree. He said it was difficult for the directors because they had to report to all four commissioners. His bill would state that directors report to the elected chairman, and there would be fewer county directors.
"It's really hard having four bosses who may have a very different opinion on where to go," he explained. "They rotate the chairman every year, so that causes some problems as well. There's not a lot of continuity."
Underwood said the county hired a company to consult with them on how to structure leadership and that the issue has already been resolved.
"Our organizational chart was not good," she said. "… We're trying to do the best we can, but we are bound by the law. County Commissions don't have authoritative power like cities do."
The commission has approved a new organizational chart, but there is still some work to be done in that area.
Underwood said she is not in favor of adding more politicians to the government, especially a commission chairman who would make over $100,000 a year. However, she said she does hope the legislature steps in and gives the commission authority to do its job and restructure personnel.
"I have full faith that members of our legislative delegation will realize that we need to amend this personnel act so that we can continue to lead the county in the best direction that we can because the whole reason we are here is to serve and we work for the people of Baldwin County," Underwood added.
Though they've had heated discussions on the matter, Underwood said it has actually brought commissioners closer together.
"I pray Lord, just help me," Underwood added. "Jesus, you fix it because I don't know but You know.' I am a very big person of faith, and I don't know all the answers, and I can't do anything by myself and neither can a chairman."
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