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In 1992 a referendum for a three person commission was soundly defeated in Pickens County.

Letter to the Editor of the Pickens County Progress

According to the Progress, the 3 area legislators (Sen. Bill Hasty, Rep. Garland Pinholster & Rep. Steve Stancil) hosted a town hall meeting in Feb. 1991 for the purpose of gathering public comments on a grand jury proposal that Pickens voters be given the opportunity to vote on changing to a multi-member county commission. Legislation was drawn up in 1991 and appears to be highly modeled after the 1989 Cherokee County Enabling Legislation.

In none of the newspaper articles is there a mention of a non-binding referendum being held, nor of a citizen study committee being formed. There was a public forum held in February 1992 just before the election, but no citizen input was reported at that meeting.

The enabling legislation (requiring a binding referendum at the March 1992 Presidential Primary) was approved in April 1991. There were no articles found in the Progress noting the legislation had been passed by the General Assembly. In 1991 the only mention of a multi-member commission was found in 2 letters to the editor – one for a change, the other against a change from sole commissioner.

In 1992, there was town hall meeting hosted by the area legislators in mid January and the Progress did not note any discussion of the multi-member commission issue. Approximately 80 local residents attended.

The next mention of a multi-member commission in the newspaper was on January 30, 1992 when a 1/3-page ad/endorsement of the multi-member commission form was submitted by Phil M. Landrum, Jr. and Susan Landrum. The rest of the page was a detailed summary of the 3-member form that was on the upcoming ballot. “Concerned Citizens” paid for the summary.

Not until February 20, 1992 did the media begin to heat up on the multi-member issue. In this issue was an article notifying the public of a forum on the “Three-member commission” that was to be held on February 24, 1992. More importantly, in this issue was a full-page ad asking, “Why are a select few trying to change your county government?” They emphasized “how” the sole commissioner form has worked in Pickens County and the problems Gilmer and Cherokee Counties were reported as having after adopting multi-member commissions. It was paid for by “Concerned Citizens.”

As reported in the February 27th issue, the only speaker at the forum was Paul Hardy, a Carl Vinson Institute associate. Mr. Hardy explained the proposed change and the sequence of events, if the referendum passed at the upcoming election. The Jasper Lions Club, Lioness Club, Optimist Club and Leadership Pickens Alumni sponsored the forum. These organizations stressed their neutrality in either supporting or opposing the proposed change to a 3-member board of commissioners.

The newspaper article did not mention any public input at the forum.

Also in the February 27 issue of the newspaper things really heated up. There was a page 1 article on the with a headline of “Three-man commission vote, Georgia presidential primary coming up March 3.” In regards to the multi-member commission aspect, the article only mentioned the wording on the ballot that related to the change in forms and none of the specifics.

More critical, however, was another full-page ad listing “a summary of what has happened in surrounding counties with a board of commissioners.” This time Gordon was added to Gilmer and Cherokee counties as examples of high administrative costs. Much of the emphasis seemed to be on the salaries and benefits of the county managers’. This ad did not have any notation as to the source of payment.

On March 5, 1992 the Progress reported, “Multi-member commission turned down.” The vote against changing to the 3-member board was 2,081 (60%) to 1,375 (40%) for the change (total voting on the question 3,456). The total number of voters going to the polls at the election was 3,503. There were 98.6% of those going to the polls voting on the question. At that time there were 6,405 registered voters in the county according to the election superintendent.

The Hinton and Talking Rock Precincts had 3 to 1 majorities against the proposed change. The “Town Precinct” (not Townsend) came closest to approving with 816 for and 998 against. The absentee voters did give it a 50 to 43 favorable vote.

Bill Quinlin, the Sole Commissioner of Pickens County at the time, is quoted by the newspaper as saying, “I’m very pleased with the results. The election came out about as we had predicted. Some people had accused me of having a political machine (working against the proposed change to multi-member board), but that’s not true. There wasn’t any organized effort on our part. This is a case of the working people of Pickens County going out and voting. The election wasn’t a victory for Bill Quinlin because people weren’t voting for me. They were voting on the form of government they believe is best for the county.”

Elsewhere in Georgia, there were three other sole commission counties holding a referendum on multi-member forms. Chattooga County joined Pickens in rejecting the change. Franklin and Dade Counties voted in favor of the changes.

Observation: The two members of the Research Subcommittee who checked the back issues of the Progress noted that until mid to late January 1992 there was not much media coverage, even though the enabling legislation was passed in April of the previous year. There is no indication as to who decided upon a 3-member commission or that it be largely modeled after Cherokee County’s enabling law. Except for the few letters to the editor and the ad/endorsement by the Landrum’s there are no indications of who supported a change and those who opposed it.

It appeared to be a sleeper issue whose opponents and proponents waiting until the last couple of weeks to spring their respective campaigns.

We also found a newspaper article from 1991, while doing this search, that reported the population of the county in the 1990 census as 14,432. This is roughly half of the estimated population of the county now.

Respectfully submitted by
Jon Aldridge & Kirk Kondos