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Gainesville officials don't like legislative intrusion into mayor, school chairman votes
Bills would allow nonbinding referendum on having voters elect city, education leaders
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As expected, Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, filed two bills Monday that call for non-binding referendums on the election of a mayor and school board chairman for the city of Gainesville.

Rogers said the bills carried the signatures of the entire Hall County House delegation as co-sponsors.

The bills are local legislation and are assured passage because of the delegation’s support.

The separate referendum questions will go before voters in the Nov. 3 municipal election.

Presently, the job of mayor is a mostly ceremonial function and is rotated among the members of the Gainesville City Council.

The chairman of the board of education is elected by its members.

Rogers said over the weekend, he heard from constituents who support his action.

"I’ve had numerous calls and e-mails and folks saying this is the right direction," Rogers said. "It’s up to the voters to decide and it will give them an opportunity to vote for or against it."

Gainesville officials say they are not against letting the people voice their opinions on the city government’s structure, but what they are against is what they perceive as an effort by state officials to dictate what happens on the local level without consulting local officials.

When asked about the referendum, Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Bruner said city officials just want a part in deciding the city’s system of government. She said the current system of government in which all council members are elected at-large works, and city officials want input on any proposed changes.

"Usually what happens is the local body goes to the legislature and asks for a change in the charter rather than being imposed on it from the legislature," Bruner said. "We would like to decide how we think it will work best, because we understand what we do as a city, whereas the legislators really have not been in local government. They don’t know exactly what a mayor would do or what a city manager would do."

Rogers said he feels the board of education is in need of direction or leadership.

Last week, board member Kelvin Simmons was stunned by the news and complained that the board of education was never consulted by Rogers.

"We’re just getting too much politics mixed in with education and it is too political when you have to go out and elect a school board chair," Simmons said.

While board member Sammy Smith was fine with the notion of letting voters decide the matter, he defended the present board.

"I believe we all try to represent all wards of the city even though we are currently elected by a single ward," Smith said.

Staff writer Ashley Fielding contributed to this report.