Commissioner Jerry Barnes, Commission Chair Rob Jones and Commissioner Becky Denney.
Commission Chairman Rob Jones estimated it will take four to six months to get used to the changes involving the three-member commission that replaced the sole commissioner form of government on Jan. 1.
Jones, who served as the final sole commissioner in Pickens County, said there are a lot of restrictions involving open meetings they are treating very cautiously.
Jones said he and commissioners Becky Denney and Jerry Barnes are not taking any chances with “giving the perception of illegal meetings.”
With a three-person commission, two of the members make an official quorum so no two of the three may meet privately, without it being an announced public event.
At this point the county is taking a very strict approach to this, even though there is some leeway for social functions or club meetings.
“If there is a breakfast meeting of the Chamber, we probably all three could attend, but we’re not going to take any chances with someone calling it an illegal meeting,” Jones said.
Jones said he worries about bumping into one of the other commissioners at a sporting event or large community event. “I don’t need someone seeing me and Jerry getting coffee at the same time and next thing you know we’re down in Atlanta before an ethics board,” he said.
Jones said he felt they could relax on this in the coming months, but for now anyone wanting to a make presentation to all the commissioners, including groups such as a civic club or school group, needs to put themselves on an official agenda.
As he knows several regular critics/watchdogs are looking for anything they can find against his administration, Jones said he is being vigilant on the new open meeting rules the county finds itself under. Previously with a sole commisisoner, everywhere Jones went was automatically an open meeting with no other requirements to meet.
Jones said he discussed different ways of handling open meetings with counties already using the three-person form of government, but found that every county seemed to do it differently and there were few clear cut answers.
Jones notes that an added difficulty is that any time the three commissioners do meet, it must be posted in advance, the media notified and the county clerk is required to be there -- calling a meeting isn’t as simple as announcing this is a meeting.
For citizens with issues to discuss, Jones maintains his previous open door policy. Per the setup of the new government, Jones, as commission chairman, will handle day-to-day operations and questions, while Barnes and Denney offer input on policies and bigger issues.
“I don’t want citizens to feel restricted to come into my office,” he said. Though he may not be able to give an answer until the next commission meeting.
“We can talk and I can take it to the board, “ he said. “But I can’t give an answer until the board meets.”
Jones said a key to anyone wanting to deal with county government will be to make use of the work sessions to present issues, requests and concerns to all three commissioners.
The commission plans to hold a work session at least seven days before their official meeting each month. No action will be taken at this meeting, but it is the correct place to address all the commissioners as a group.
For internal communication, Jones said all three commissioners rely on County Clerk Deborah Watson to be a constant go-between.
Watson said she routinely forwards e-mails to all three commissioners on the issues coming up, but they do not communicate back and forth on e-mails. “I just let them know what is coming up,” she said.
E-mail has been the preferred communication method to work among three-person groups because it is the easiest to document what was sent to each.
The board of commissioners is expected to set a schedule for work sessions/ official meetings at their Jan. 31 meeting at 4 p.m.
Early discussion indicated the first Thursday of each month at 10 a.m. will be for the work sessions and the third Thursday at 5:30 p.m. for the regular meetings. But this won’t be set until the board meets next.
To contact the commissioners:
Rob Jones’ office - 706-253-8809 for county admin building, e-mail - rjones@pickenscounty ga.gov
Jerry Barnes - 706-669-1972, e-mail - jbarnes@pickenscounty ga.gov
Becky Denney - 706-669-1440, e-mail - bdenney@pick enscountyga.gov