On Monday, March 8, the state house and state senate both passed senate bill 22. Senator Emanuel Jones sponsored the bill with the support of the Henry County legislative delegation. Later that afternoon, Governor Kemp signed the bill into law effective immediately. Senator Jones, county chair Carlotta Harrell and previous county chair June Wood attended the signing beside the governor.
Senate Bill 22 contains three sections:
- additional info how to fill vacancies on the board of commissioners,
- the creation of a Henry County Board of Ethics, and
- revisions to the powers and authorities of the board of commissioners.
The first section, how to fill vacancies on the BOC, was added in February. The other two sections appeared in the bill when originally submitted.
The bill allows Henry County commissioners to appoint an interim commissioner when a vacancy occurs on the board. The interim commissioner serves until A) the commission term ends if less than one year is remaining, or B) a special election occurs if greater than one year remains in the term. The political party in which the vacancy occurs submits nominees for the BOC to choose from when selecting the interim commissioner.
The Henry County Republican Party has fourteen days from Commissioner Gary Barhamâ€™s passing to submit nominees for interim commissioner. A special election will occur later this year for the balance of the commissionerâ€™s term. The most likely special election date is June 15, 2021. The term expires December 31, 2022.
Board of Ethics
The Henry County Board of Ethics is a new seven-member panel. The new board will have investigation powers into alleged violations of ethics by county officials or employees. The board will be in place starting January 1, 2022.
The bill outlines the selection process for board members: five members appointed by the grand jury, one from each commission district, and two selected by the tax commissioner. In addition, the clerk of superior court appoints two alternates. Appointees to the board shall have professional knowledge or expertise in matters of ethics, finance, governance or the law. All proposed appointees shall be subject to an education and employment background check in addition to a criminal history check.
Furthermore, the bill creates two staff positions: an ethics officer and ethics administrator. Henry County is responsible for funding the two positions. The ethics officer must be a lawyer with at least five years of experience. Neither position can be politically active in Henry County.
Responsibilities of County Chair
Finally, the billâ€™s third and final section revises the responsibilities of the county chair. The bill restores many powers and authorities to the chair that the legislature removed in 2015. Authorities include setting the board agenda, having the power to fire the county manager and approving expense requests of other commissioners.
After the chair sets the meeting agenda, then a supermajority of district commissioners (4 out of the 5) can add or remove agenda items. Previously, adding agenda items required only three board members.
The full text of senate bill 22 is available on the state website.
The featured image shows the bill signing by Governor Kemp. Credit to Senator Emanuel Jones.