Two members of the Whitfield County delegation to the state Legislature said Tuesday they want to see if there's public support for the idea before they introduce legislation ending term limits for the board of commissioners
On Monday night, commissioners voted 4-1 to ask the area's delegation to the Legislature to introduce a bill during the upcoming session ending term limits for commissioners. Board Chairman Lynn Laughter cast the dissenting vote. Since 1993, state law has limited Whitfield commissioners to three consecutive four-year terms.
Commissioners had originally been expected to consider a plan presented to them in November by Dalton resident Ed Painter to ask lawmakers to modify the term limits law so that the term limits "clock" would basically start over if a sitting commissioner is elected chairman. That would allow someone to potentially serve three full terms as chairman no matter how many terms that person had served as commissioner.
But at Monday’s meeting, Painter recommended the board ask lawmakers to do away with term limits completely. And in a move Laughter said “completely blindsided” her, the other four members of the commission voted to go along with Painter's new proposal.
Getting the area's delegation to introduce such a bill could prove difficult.
State Rep. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton, said he would "have a struggle" with supporting local legislation to abolish term limits on commissioners since it wasn't supported by all board members.
"I'll take a look at it, but it has been the precedent, well before I came to the Legislature, that a request for local legislation be unanimous," he said.
He said he wants to talk to commissioners and find out why they want term limits removed.
"Obviously, back in 1993, people thought this was a good idea," he said. "I want to know what has changed."
One thing he wants to know is whether commissioners want the law to apply only to future commissioners or if it would exempt sitting commissioners from term limits.
"When they ran, they knew there were term limits," he said. "To ask that those limits be abolished after they are elected seems like it's changing the rules in the middle of the game. It makes it more difficult to support if they are asking for something to benefit them."
Carpenter said public feedback will also play a role in whether he can support such legislation.
"Most of the calls I've been getting have been against changing term limits," he said. "If there are people who support removing term limits, I want to hear from them and find out what their reasons are."
In 2009, county commissioners unanimously requested that their term limits be abolished. But the local legislative delegation did not introduce such legislation, with some lawmakers citing opposition from county residents.
State Sen. Chuck Payne, R-Dalton, said he wants commissioners to place a question on an election ballot asking if voters support removing term limits before he decides whether he could support a law ending those term limits.
"Because it isn't a unanimous vote, before we take legislation down there, we need to make sure this is what the community wants. If the people want to do away with term limits for county commissioners, I'll be happy to introduce that bill," he said.
Payne said he wants to make sure he's acting in the interests of the majority and not a few.
Commissioners could not place a question on the ballot until the March 19, 2019, special election for a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). If lawmakers did wait for the results of that vote they likely would not be able to introduce a bill abolishing term limits and get it to a vote in the 2019 session, which is expected to end in late March.
"The timetable I would be looking at is in the 2020 session," Payne said.
State Rep. Jason Ridley, R-Chatsworth, did not immediately return a telephone message Tuesday.