“It’s simple as A-B-C to me,” Hollingsworth told a friendly crowd of tea partiers Thursday night. “Anybody But Chappell.”
With just a little more than a month until the July 31 Republican primary, both Hollingsworth and fellow candidate Marty Smith have zeroed in on incumbent commission Chairman Bill Chappell. Their challenge is centered around leadership ability and whether the county’s 23-year-old charter gives too much power to its top executive.
Smith also had some stinging words Thursday night about Chappell, “Carroll County doesn’t need to be run. It needs a leader. It doesn’t need a dictator.”
Both candidates used the monthly Carroll County Tea Party meeting Thursday night to fire the first volleys in the battle for the chairman’s seat.
The campaign is likely to heat up fast since the winner of the primary will be the next chairman. No Democratic candidate qualified to challenge the Republican winner.
All three chairman candidates will get their first, and maybe only, chance to appear together at the 7 p.m. League of Women Voters forum next Thursday at the county commission boardroom at 423 College St. in Carrollton.
The current 1989 county charter under discussion was drafted after the county’s sole commissioner form of government was challenged in court. With a ruling likely to go against them, county officials drafted a charter that kept many of the qualities of a powerful executive, opponents charge.
“Our charter needs to be changed,” Hollingsworth said Thursday. “It’s not in black and white. It’s gray. The board needs to be more involved, not the commission chairman. We have commissioners at the district level who need to be empowered to do their jobs.”
“I think it needs to be looked at,” Smith said. “I’ve promised folks who support me that I will look at it. It’s been in place 23 years. I’ve been to the doctor a lot in the last 23 years, because I’ve changed a lot during that time.”
But Chappell said Friday that the changes his opponents are proposing are not what county residents want and would make county government inefficient.
“You can’t run anything by committee, especially with some of these district commissioners,” he said. “You wouldn’t get a thing done. The voters in Carroll County voted twice on whether to go to a county manager system and they turned it down twice. The voters aren’t interested in it either. A county manager would have to please three or four people. The chairman works for the voters of Carroll County.”
Chappell said talk among the district commissioners about charter change followed a 2008 training session in Athens for new commissioners, attended by some new Carroll County commissioners.
“We were dining with a district commissioner from Henry County,” Chappell said. “One of them asked him what Henry County district commissioners make and he said, ‘$42 thousand a year.’ They asked how they could get that and the Henry commissioner said, ‘change your charter.’”
Hollingsworth also questioned the $12,500 provision of the charter which gives the chairman discretion to spend money up to that amount without Board of Commissioners approval. He called for abolishment of that provision.
Chappell said $12,500 doesn’t buy much now and by having to go to the board for every spending decision, “it would cripple county operations.”
He said money is set aside in the budget for small expenditures, such as asphalt for road repairs, and the departments are given power to make purchase decisions.
“If anything, the $12,500 is too small,” he added. “What $12,500 bought in the 1980s would not do for now. It should be $25,000.”
Tranparency and open records are another issue where the candidates clash.
Hollingsworth has charged that requests to the county for open records are slow and the information obtained unreliable.
“If you ever file a request for open records in this town or county, it’s an act of God to get an accurate piece of paper that has the truth,” he said.
Smith said it had taken him 11 weeks to get a figure for what had been paid out of 2008 special purpose local option sales tax funds.
“That’s not transparency to me,” he said.
Chappell has a different take on county transparency.
“After I came into office, I ordered and we became the first county government to put its checkbook and budget online for citizens to see,” he said Friday. “We continue to do that. We didn’t have the SPLOST checkbook online at first, because we didn’t think of it. I don’t know any county in the state that has been as open and transparent as we are. You can file a written request (for open records), or pick up the phone and call Susan (Mabry, county clerk) and tell her what you want and you’ll get it.”
Chappell noted, however, that some personnel information, by law, cannot be revealed.