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Commission speaks out on home rule issue

One of Gov. Bob Riley's objectives in constitutional reform is the implementation of limited home rule for the state's county governments.

Currently, according to the Constitution of Alabama, before a county commission can undertake any legal action that involves authority it doesn't already have, it must request the authority to take that action by enacting a resolution requesting a bill be passed by the state legislature.

The legislature then must pass the bill in the form of a Constitution Amendment granting electors of the county to vote on the measure for its approval.

Members of the Butler County Commission have expressed their desire to see county home rule implemented in Alabama.

&uot;I think it's ridiculous to think that the people in Montgomery [the State Legislature] can better conduct county business the Butler County's commission can,&uot; Commissioner Frank Hickman said. &uot;Anytime the commission wants to do anything, we have to ask for permission to do it. The process may have been good 50 years ago, but its time has come and gone. Home rule is something we need.&uot;

Hickman said that the time involved with the current process is that it's cumbersome.

&uot;Any action we want to take that affects revenue requires passing a bill through the legislature,&uot; he said. &uot;We have to go through the time and cost of advertising the legislation in the media to get the bill passed. Then we have to hope that the legislature doesn't get deadlocked over some issue, such as it is now, and the local bill gets caught up in that. Additionally, if what we request requires a constitutional amendment, then everyone in the state has to vote on it.&uot;

Gov. Riley issued a statement on Feb. 5, 2003, that stated his objective was to establish home rule for the counties, but limit it by requiring that any imposition of taxes be approved by a &uot;direct vote of the people.&uot;

Alabama Farmers Federation Association's Director of Governmental Affairs Freddie Patterson wrote an article addressing his concerns about the issue on May 31, 2002, in an article for ALFA's Issues page on its website, www.alfafarmers.org.

Patterson said there were major problems surrounding giving counties complete home rule.

&uot;The counties are a creation of the state,&uot; he wrote. &uot;The state is ultimately, by constitutional provision, responsible for all debt incurred by any or all of the counties. A county could incur more debt than its citizens would be willing to provide revenue for.&uot;

Patterson's other argument pointed out that there are circumstances in which smaller counties would be at a disadvantage if not protected by the legislative process.

Butler County Commissioner Jesse McWilliams also sees potential problems with home rule.

&uot;It can increase the chances of corruption entering into the county's government if the legislative process is removed,&uot; McWilliams said. &uot;If we aren't in this to do what's best for the county, then it could hurt. That's where the people's responsibility to vote moral people into office comes in. They have to make sure they vote for people who are going to do the right thing. It places a greater responsibility for county residents to know who they are voting for.&uot;

Despite the potential problems, the commissioners still felt that home rule for Butler County would be an overall improvement in the way the county's business was conducted.

&uot;I think it's time for us [county commissioners] to fail or succeed on our own,&uot; Hickman said. &uot;We don't need the state government. And if we aren't capable of doing the job, the voters will change the slate.&uot;