By MEGHAN PITTMAN
In April, the Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 1271, setting the stage to change the composition of the Brunswick Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission.
The July 31 referendum will ask Glynn County voters two questions about the composition of the utility board.
The first item on the ballot will ask the voter if the composition of the utility board should be changed. Presently, the board is made up of two county commissioners, two city commissioners and a citizen representative appointed by the utility board.
The second question on the ballot for voters who desire to change the composition asks how they would prefer the composition of the utility board to be decided.
The Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission is taking a stand on House Bill 1271, which will ask voters how, or even if, they want to change the composition of the now five-member board.
Option No. 1 would allow the grand jury to appoint three. Residents would decide the other two at the ballot box.
The bill expands membership from five to seven members, with a city commissioner and county commissioner taking the other two posts.
The bill was passed by the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate last month during their legislative session.
Tony Sammons, a member of the utility board, recommended the board support the second option.
State Sen. William Ligon, R-Waverly, says complaints against the bill that will give Glynn County voters a voice on the composition of the water-sewer utility board has not led him or other members of the state delegation to reconsider the legislation.
"The delegation worked hard on the bill, after hearing the various opinions of the public," Ligon said. "This is what we've put together, and there has been no move to change it...no discussion."
House Bill 1271, passed by the state House of Representatives Tuesday, was introduced by Rep. Alex Atwood, R- St. Simons Island, and signed by Reps. Roger Lane, R-St. Simons, and Jerry Spencer, R-Woodbine. The bill the three drafted differs from the proposed resolution approved by the utility board and city and county commissions.
Ligon said the bill is slated to reach the floor of the Senate on Monday.
Tony Sammons, a member of the water-sewer board and district manager for Georgia Power Co., said Wednesday the board is not going to give up trying to appeal to the delegation to amend the legislation.
A former chairman of the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce is asking the chamber to oppose state legislation that will change the Brunswick and Glynn County Joint Water-Sewer Commission, even as it passed its first legislative hurdle Tuesday.
Sammons, who is district manager for the Georgia Power Co., said the five citizen members proposed in an overhaul of the utility board should not be elected by the general public.
As proposed by the utility board and agreed upon by city and county commissioners, utility board membership would increase from five to seven members, two of whom would be elected city and county officials. The board had proposed allowing the grand jury to appoint citizens, who the board would review.
Allowing the public to vote on any of the other five is included in House Bill 1271, the legislation to change the makeup of the commission authored by Rep. Alex Atwood, R-St. Simons Island.
The two other House members of the state delegation, Reps. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, and Roger Lane, R-St. Simons Island, also have signed the measure.
State Rep. Alex Atwood says he respects the opinion of the Brunswick and Glynn County Joint Water-Sewer Commission, but he's going to pursue changes to the makeup of its board that he thinks are in the best interest of the community.
Water-sewer commissioners were to let Atwood and other members of the legislative delegation know they disapproved of the legislation by email Friday.
Atwood, R-St. Simons Island, said he was guided by the voice of the residents when writing the bill that will change the composition of the utility's board from four city and county commissioners and one resident to two commissioners and five residents.
"The legislation filed (Thursday) reflects and respects the best of those views, and I believe will help to further confidence in our governmental structure and the day-to-day operations of the (water-sewer commission)," Atwood said.
The local House delegation, which includes Reps. Roger Lane, R-St. Simons Island, Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine and Atwood, maintains that the legislation is fair, Atwood said.
State Reps. Alex Atwood, Roger Lane and Jason Spencer could find an unhappy email in their in boxes today.
The three legislators sponsored House Bill 1271, which would amend the local act that created the water-sewer commission and change the composition of it. The bill is a dramatic change from what was developed and approved in February by the utility board, Brunswick City Commission and Glynn County Commission.
During a regular utility board meeting Thursday, the five members voted to inform Atwood, R-St. Simons Island, Lane, R-St. Simons Island, and Spencer, R-Woodbine, of their displeasure with the changes the three are proposing.
Changes to what the utility board had sought included the removal of a $500 monthly stipend for the two city and county commissioners officials who would serve on a new seven-member board. The stipends remain for five citizen members.
"This is not what the city, county and joint water-sewer commission approved," said Glynn County Commissioner Clyde Taylor, who chairs the utility board.
The Glynn County Commission joined the Brunswick Commission in approving a resolution endorsing changes to the Joint Water and Sewer Commission.
Voting for the amendment were Glynn County Commission Chair Richard Strickland and Commissioners Tom Sublett, Mary Hunt, Amy Callaway, Clyde Taylor and Jerome Clark.
Taylor, who chairs the utility board, presented the resolution to the commission.
"We need to bring to the board a level of expertise that would improve our ability and efficiency," Taylor said.
Members of the utility board - which would grow to seven from five - would also receive a $500 a month stipend.
Brunswick city commissioners said yes Wednesday to changing the composition of the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water-Sewer Commission.
Harvey is one of two city commissioners on the utility board. The other is James Brooks, who is being held in the Glynn County Detention Center on charges of using his office to influence public officials and possessing a gun as a convicted felon.
Commissioner Johnny Cason opposed the resolution, warning that the local delegation to the General Assembly would not support the resolution as it is written. The local delegation must be satisfied with the resolution before it can be submitted to the Legislature for approval.
"I don't think this is what they are asking for," Cason said of the resolution asking the Legislature to change the makeup of the utility board to reduce the number of elected officials and to increase the number of at-large residents.
Five citizen representatives, under the proposed change, would be selected by the utility board from recommendations submitted by a Glynn County Grand Jury. The city and Glynn County commissions would each pick one of its members to serve on the seven-member utility board.
City Commissioner Johnny Cason says he will not support a resolution proposed by the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water Sewer Commission that would change the composition of the board's membership. Instead, Cason is proposing some changes to the amendment that he says are in line with what's proposed by members of the county's delegation to the Georgia General Assembly.
Cason's main issue with the proposed amendment to the joint commission, established by state law in 2006, lies with the appointment of citizen representatives by the utility board itself. As proposed, the board would appoint members from a list of potential candidates recommended by the grand jury.
Cason said the people should have a say in who sits on the board.
"It would be prudent for the citizens (on the board) to be elected or just appointed (outright) by the grand jury," said Cason. "We need to give the people more input."
Cason said it is his understanding that the local state delegation will not support a resolution that includes JWSC appointments, and that the city should move to resolve the matter.
City commissioners deferred action on proposed changes to the Joint Water and Sewer Commission Wednesday, saying they've been too occupied by events over the past week to discuss the issue.
Brooks, one of five members of the city commission, remains jailed in the Camden County Detention Center on a single count of bribery.
The four commissioners continue to debate the proposed amendment to the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water Sewer Commission that would change the composition of the utility board.
"In light of recent events I feel like we're not prepared to move to vote on this amendment," said Mayor Bryan Thompson. "We really haven't had time to discuss and really decide what's best."
The city was supposed to discuss in detail the amendment, which calls for reducing the number of city and county commissioners on the board of the JWSC to one apiece.
Brunswick city commissioners listened to public opinion about potential changes to the composition of a joint city-county utility board during a special session Thursday.
City commissioner Cornell Harvey, one of two city commissioners on the utility's board, said that he understands that the commission needs greater citizen representation.
"We feel the need, and now we need to figure out how to have both," said Harvey. "The question now, for us to decide, is whether to elect or appoint these representatives and officials."
Members of the city commission will discuss the issue and make a decision to recommend to the state Legislature, which created the commission that voters approved, Harvey said.
Sandy Dean, a citizen member of the city's audit committee, spoke against having members elected or appointed by politicians.