Choctaw County, Ala.
A newly formed group in west Alabama is intensifying its push for changes in how local government operates. Members of the Concerned Citizens Committee are asking the Choctaw County Commission to allow voters to decide whether the county should change from its current district system to a unit system. Supporters of the change say it would save the county a significant amount of money.
"There are no checks and balances. There's no accountability," says former Choctaw County Superintendent Vernon Underwood. He's talking about the current way that Choctaw County commissioners do business. Underwood is a part of the Concerned Citizens Committee which wants county officials to make changes.
"We're throwing away money by the buckets full. I worked for the school system for many years and had we operated in this way, I would've found myself in federal prison somewhere a long time ago," says Underwood.
By switching to the unit system, supporters of the effort estimate that Choctaw County can save more than a half million dollars within the first year of making the change.
"Our county commissioners in 2012 with salaries and benefits cost us almost $250,000, and by going to the unit system, their salary would be $20,000 with no benefits because they are considered part-time employees," says Kim Edwards, who is also with the Concerned Citizens Committee.
Edwards says under the unit system, the commissioners jobs would be considered as part-time. Under the current system their positions are not distinguished as part-time nor full-time and they make more than $39,000 a year with most receiving benefits.
Probate Judge Michael Armistead, who is head of the commissioners, says a proposal to put the unit system issue on the ballot for voters to decide is expected to come up at the commissioners' next meeting.
"It has come up for a vote. As a matter of fact, in the last meeting in April I called for a motion to put the unit system issue on the ballot, which would come up next June," says Armistead. "There was no motion and obviously there was no second, but since this issue has come up about the unit system, I've been in support or in favor of putting this issue on the ballot and letting the people of Choctaw County make that decision."
The board's next meeting will be held Tuesday, May 7th at 9 AM.
Under the unit system, supporters of the change say that it would require county equipment to be housed in one location. Also, the county engineer would oversee all road and bridge work. Under the current system each commissioner handles that type of work within his district, and he provides a storage site for county equipment that is used for his district.