In light of the upcoming referendum on Nov. 6 on whether to change the Walker County form of government from a sole commissioner to a commission or board of commissioners, current Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield agreed to answer several questions and provide his personal insight on the issue and to make any comments he desired on the referendum issue.
Q. What do you personally feel are the pros and cons of both forms of government?
The sole commissioner form of government provides faster resolution to issues and provides citizens with one point of contact. The citizens have more accountability over the direction of their government by vot-ing for one person, instead of having no political control over three of the five people who would sit on the board. A drawback to the sole commissioner form of government is that mistakes can go unchecked between election cycles.
The board form of government may give citizens the feeling of having someone more representative of their district involved in policy deci-sions. The hope with a board is that more eyes on county government will result in fewer big mistakes. A drawback to the board is that decisive action for the positive can be slowed down by another layer of government.
Both forms of government ultimately rely upon the integrity and com-petence of the people elected to serve.
Q. Why do you feel that the commission form is better for Walker residents than the commissioner form?
My personal opinion on this issue as the current sole commissioner should not sway the result of this election. This is a very serious matter for the citizens of our county to consider and decide for themselves, and there are good, honest people who feel very strongly on both sides.
Q. Obviously, the four-member commission plus a full-time chairman will cost more than a sole commissioner. How is the difference justified and how would it be “balanced” in the county budget?
I don’t think the cost difference between the two forms is as important in the big picture as which form of government is more effective helping citizens. The voters, as the taxpayers, will decide whether the greater salaries and extra expenses paid to five board members are justified.
Q. In your position as commissioner thus far, what are some issues or circumstances which you feel a commission could have handled better than a sole commissioner?
Before taking office, I could see how a board may have slowed down excessive spending by the prior administration. We are still dealing with the debt every day.
Since taking office, we’ve assembled an experienced and talented team to help resolve critical issues including debt reduction, crafting a balanced budget and upgrading critical infrastructure. With hands-on experience and the right team, I have learned that a sole commissioner form of government can be very effective for the people. With a solid team in place, deliberative action and accountability isn’t exclusive to a board form of government.
Q. What issues do you see in the next 3, 5, to 10 years which you feel could be handled better by a commission than by a sole commissioner and why?
The bottom line is that in the next three years, our county will pay off the remaining Erlanger debt and will continue to operate with balanced budgets. In the next five years, if we continue on our current path, we will see our county reach financial stability and the use of debt being avoided altogether. With or without a board, our county must remain focused on growing and diversifying our business base, demonstrating fiscal discipline and improving infrastructure.
Q. Since the commission chairman is full-time like the sole commissioner, with a similar responsibility of overview of all aspects of county operations, do you have plans or an interest in running for the commission chairman position assuming the commission form wins on Nov. 6?
The mission for the current leadership team is to see our county re-stored to its full potential, while providing quality services and protection for the people. The current team is fully committed to this mission. If it is the desire of the citizens for me to lead a new team as the chairman, I would consider that option at that time.