GLOVER COLUMN: Commission terms need studying first

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 15, 2007

The members of the Alabama Legislature held a vote last week to raise their pay by 62 percent. They did this in a manner, through a voice vote, that allows each vote by the members of the Legislature to retain its anonymity. Thus, the people of the state have no way to hold those in Montgomery responsible for their actions &045; something which may raise more ire from the residents of the state than the actual vote.

In another odd move by a governing body within the state, the Marengo County Commission voted to extend its terms from four years to six, a 50 percent increase. The vote was placed on the agenda for the commission Tuesday, under the section of new business. The item was brought up, called to a vote and passed by a margin of 3-2 in a matter of minutes toward the end of the commission meeting. No discussion was presented, and no one from the public was asked his or her opinion.

Commissioner Freddie Armstead, the only one of the three commissioners voting for the term extension (Armstead and Commissioners Calvin Martin and John Crawford Jr.) that returned phone calls on the subject, said he feels the term extension would benefit newly elected commissioners. He said the longer terms would allow them to acclimate to their new positions and get things done before they face reelection.

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Armstead noted the difficulty of fulfilling goals set in a commissioner’s campaign platform in the first term on the commission as a problem that might wash promising commissioners out of office after one go round. Armstead referenced the difficulties in being able to finance and complete projects such as road development, something he feels is a hot topic issue during the election process, as a problem faced by the shorter four-year term.

Commissioner Ken Tucker, who along with Commissioner Jerry Loftin voted against the measure, said it would be hard to rationalize the commission position being more difficult than that of the governor or president, who both serve in four-year increments. He said the measure would be more beneficial to the commission members than the public it is meant to serve.

Armstead mentioned three other elected positions in the county that have six-year appointments in defense of the measure. But Tucker said, prior to Armstead’s comments, those position terms are set by a state statute that mandates the three positions have terms of six years in every county of Alabama.

Armstead said more and more counties are moving toward six-year appointments. Tucker said according to information he received by the Association of County Commissions of Alabama there were only three counties out of 67 with six-year terms for commissioners last time the association collected data on the subject.

Regardless of the number, even if there are 25 out of 67 counties in Alabama with six-year terms for their county commissions, I am reminded of the old adage: &8220;If everyone else jumped off a bridge would you?&8221;

Just because others are doing something doesn’t necessarily make it the right thing for Marengo County.

Loftin said that his biggest problem with the measure, and the reason he voted against it, was that the community was not consulted before the vote. Tucker said the same. And I, for my part, would have to agree.

I don’t pretend to know the ends and outs of the commissioner position. I would be remiss if I said I knew the problems a new commissioner faces in his first term. I do know from my experience covering it that the Marengo County Commission tends to do a good job, and each member seems to care about the problems facing those they represent.

That is why this comes as such a surprise. I would have never expected three of the members of the commissioner to come into a meeting and drive an issue such as this through, with the ethical baggage attached to it, without out first consulting the community.

While this might not be on par with what was pulled by the Legislature in raising their pay, it is only a few strokes behind in my book. I have no problem in extending terms for the commissioners if there is a vote issued to the people of the county or at least a town meeting where the community could come and ask the commission why they feel such a move is important to the &8220;people&8221;.

I feel for the move to be viewed as a viable measure it has to benefit the &8220;people&8221; of the county and not just members of the commission. The way this measure was passed and sent to the Legislature, where a local legislative act can be drawn and issued without a vote from the county, there is a chance residents from Marengo County will be left without a voice on this issue.

It seems some members of the commission were afraid of the answer they might receive from the public on the issue, so they decided not to ask.

And that, I feel, is a disservice to those the commission is sworn to represent &045; the people.

Brandon Glover is a staff writer for The Times. He can be reached by e-mail to