Originally created 03/16/04

Bill seeks chairman referendum



State representatives introduced a bill Monday that would let Columbia County's voters decide whether they want an at-large elected school board chairman.

Introduced by Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, and Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, House Bill 1787 will likely be approved by both legislative chambers next week, Mr. Harbin said.

If approved, the question would appear as a nonbinding referendum in the county's general election in November.

Currently, the chairman is elected by board members.

"This is an issue that is being discussed in the county, and the only way to get it resolved is to let the people of the county make the final decision," Mr. Harbin said. "If they support it, we'll move forward."

The legislative delegation drafted the question last week after the Columbia County School Board refused to take part in writing it.

"I feel that by helping them to formulate the question, it is a tacit endorsement," board member Regina Buccafusco said at the board's meeting last week. "That could be used as part of an argument. They put the question together, so it must be a good thing."

Most of the board members are against the move.

Only Lee Muns, who is also the county's Republican Party chairman, has said he supports having an at-large elected chairman.

In a straw poll on the Aug. 20, 2002, Republican primary ballot, 85 percent of responding voters said they favored an at-large elected school board chairman.

A 19-member task force appointed by the school board concluded that there would be no benefit to having an at-large elected chairman, and a public hearing in July drew fewer than 10 people from the public.

Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, ext. 113,

or melissa.hall@augustachronicle.com.