How Walker Works – Elections Office Prepares for the Transition to a Board of Commissioners

LaFayette – The first Board of Commissioners election doesn’t take place until 2020, but the staff at the Walker County Elections Office is already hard at work making sure every voter is placed in the correct district.

Danielle Montgomery, Director of Elections, says “We are working with the GIS for Walker County and trying to get each street in each district so we have every street in every district so we can put that into our system and that way if someone looks up on their My Voter Page they can see what district they are in.  It is a long and tedious process.”

It could take several months for Montgomery and her team to complete this task.  Meanwhile, voters with questions about which district they are in can contact the Elections office for verification.  “We have some maps and we’d be glad to answer any questions or emails about what district they are in, because we can see it, but we haven’t gotten it into the system where they can see it.”

As for those wanting to run for office, Montgomery says there are some important steps to consider before moving forward.  “You need to fill out a Declaration of Intent, it’s also known as a DOI, before you can accept money.  So, no business cards no signs or anything until you’ve completed this Declaration of Intent.”

Forms can be obtained from the Elections Office on the bottom floor of the courthouse in LaFayette.  For additional information, call (706) 638-4349 or email the Elections Office at elections@walkerga.us.

Four district commissioners and an at-large chairperson will be on the ballot.  Party qualifying takes place in 2020 from March 2nd through the 6th with the Primary scheduled for May 19th.  Those wanting to run as an Independent should contact the Elections Office to learn more about that process.  “It’s a little bit more in depth than running under a party system,” says Montgomery. 

The General Election is set for November 3, 2020.  The inaugural group of District Commissioner’s and Board Chair takes office January 1, 2021.

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Changing Walker County’s Form of Government

Walker County voters overwhelmingly elected to move from a Sole Commissioner form of government to a Board of Commissioners.  80% of votes cast in the November 6, 2018 election favored moving to a board.  So, how does this work?

In early 2017, the Georgia General Assembly was asked to pass legislation to give the public an official vote on whether to move to a board.  State lawmakers and legislative counsel, using parameters established by representatives from the Walker County Republican Party, drafted a bill outlining the composition of a five-person board, their duties, powers, district maps and other related matters.  Governor Nathan Deal signed the bill into law on May 2, 2017.

As established in the Act, the County won’t change from a Sole Commissioner to a Board of Commissioners until January 1, 2021.  This will allow candidates time to explore and mount campaigns to run for office.  The first group of board members will be elected in November 2020.  There will be four district commissioners and a chairperson.  The four district commissioners must have resided in their district for 12 months, be 18 years of age or older and will be elected by only the voters of their district.  The chairperson must have resided in Walker County for 12 months, be 25 years of age or older and will be elected by all county voters.  Along with presiding over meetings, the chairperson administers the affairs and day to day business of the county.

District 1 & 2 Commissioners will serve an initial two-year term, while the District 3 & 4 Commissioners and the Chairperson will serve four-year terms.  After 2022, all commissioner seats will become four-year terms.  This means every two years, two of the district commissioner positions will be on the ballot.

The state Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office designed the four districts, attempting to equalize the population of each district in relation to the cities of Rossville, Chickamauga, LaFayette and Lookout Mountain.

walkercc-2017-map

Click this link to open a high-resolution pdf of the district map in a new window to view, print or download.

District commissioners will be paid $12,000 a year and reimbursed for documented reasonable expenses, which the entire board must vote on.  The chairperson will be paid $100,000 or $500 more than the highest paid elected county officer, whichever is greater.  The state dictates elected official pay, based on position and years of service.  District commissioners may participate in county provided health, dental and retirement programs at their own expense.  No county funds should be spent on these programs to benefit district commissioners.

At their first meeting as a board in January 2021, the five commissioners will determine the time, date and place of their meetings going forward.  Those meetings must take place in LaFayette, the county seat.