Although a new ordinance would prevent people seeking elected office from serving on Columbia County's planning commission, county commissioners see no conflict in nominating a board member who works for political candidates.
Jim Cox, the owner of Southeastern Marketing Consulting Firehouse LLC, was approved by the county commission during a Tuesday meeting and will start his service on the planning commission at a meeting tonight.
The county commission recently passed an ordinance prohibiting anyone seeking public office from serving on the planning commission. County officials are awaiting approval from the U.S. Justice Department before enforcing it.
Through his marketing firm, Mr. Cox has consulted on campaigns for Ron Cross, Columbia County's commission chairman; state Sen. Bill Jackson; state Rep. Ben Harbin; Richmond County Commissioner Joe Bowles; and many others, he said.
Before accepting the post, Mr. Cox said he spoke with many of his clients.
"They all said, 'You know what, there's no real conflict of interest,' " he said. "If a question comes up, I don't have a problem recusing myself at all. I'll be the first to do that."
Mr. Cross, who nominated Mr. Cox to the planning commission, said he would not have chosen him if he didn't believe he had the integrity to recuse himself if needed.
Also, a separate rule recently approved by county commissioners allows them to dismiss a planning commissioner with a majority vote as long as the appointing commissioner is in the majority.
"That's the reason we put in there that they serve at the pleasure of the board (of commissioners)," Mr. Cross said. "If something comes up that someone is concerned about and he brings it to the board, and it proves to be a problem, then we'll remove him."
Mr. Cox will fill the unexpired term of former planning commissioner Brett McGuire. Mr. McGuire resigned in December when talk of enacting the new planning commission rule began. He will announce his candidacy today for the state House District 117 seat.
"It just seems counter to what the ordinance was designed to do," Mr. McGuire said of Mr. Cox's election to the planning commission.
Last year, Mr. McGuire lost to Mr. Jackson in the race for a state Senate seat. Mr. Cox was Mr. Jackson's consultant on that campaign. Other than his political affiliations, Mr. Cox said he doesn't serve any clients with issues regarding zoning or development.
"I'm not going to be a person who is anti-development. I'm not going to be a person that's for unbridled growth," he said. "The main thing I want to do is put what little bit of knowledge I have to some good use and make it a better place for my kids."
Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or firstname.lastname@example.org.