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Legislators OK staggered terms bill

Staggered terms for Butler County commissioners are one step closer to reality, as a proposed bill was passed during the 2017 regular legislative session and delivered to Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk Friday evening.

The proposal, formally known as Alabama House Bill 597, called for the Butler County Commission’s adoption of a staggered term cycle for its five commissioners.

By staggering the commissioners’ terms, it would avoid the possibility of Butler County having a total turnover of commissioners in any given election cycle.

Jesse McWilliams III, commissioner of District 2, and Frank Hickman, commissioner of District 3, would each have their terms cut in half to two years, while the remaining three commissioners would still be elected on a four-year term.

McWilliams has been a proponent of the bill since its inception months ago. So too is Hickman, the other commissioner who would be affected by the change.

“This means that there would always be some experience on the county commission, and it would not leave them in a situation where everybody would be looking at each other and wondering what to do,” Hickman said.

“Commissioner McWilliams certainly thinks it’s a positive thing moving forward, and about half of the 67 counties have staggered terms for their commissions. We’re right in the middle of that, and most of them who have done that certainly feel like it has been a positive step for the county commission.  It allows some stability and direction in policymaking and allows for continuation that I think is healthy.”

McWilliams said that the idea came about when recalling a situation during the 1996 election, before his time as an elected official, when the entire commission was replaced.

The three new members added in 2012 to McWilliams and Hickman’s existing experience was a much smoother transition by comparison.

“[The three new commissioners] said that having Frank and I on that to be able to lead and give them some direction until they were able to get their feet on the ground was a big help,” McWilliams said.

But as with most issues, there were concerns about adopting a staggered term cycle. 

Hickman said that some commissioners in other counties expressed concerns that a shorter term could cause commissioners to be more prone to avoid hot-button issues or delay action on certain items that may be controversial for the sake of being reelected.

“It’s just like in the legislature,” Hickman added. “With the 2018 elections looming, if anyone thinks that the Alabama legislature is going to do something controversial next year, they’re mistaken.  Nobody is going to raise taxes, generate income or do anything when they have to face voters in six months.  It just has a chilling effect on some legislation; it may be positive legislation that people just would rather kick the can down the road.  It used to be that we could kick the can down the road for a four-year term. Now we’ll be kicking the can for two years. 

“It shortens the period of time that people would have to be concerned about controversial issues at the county commission level.  But my attitude about it is that if you’re concerned about getting reelection, you don’t have to be a county commissioner—you need to be concerned about what’s best for the citizens of Butler County.”