Merger bill to remain same

ATLANTA -- State Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, said that her bill to merge the governments of Albany and Dougherty County will proceed to the House without changes to two controversial elements.

Sims introduced Senate Bill 538 in the Senate last week where it was read and referred to the State and Local Government Operations committee.

But the bill, as it currently stands, contains two provisions that have generated considerable buzz in the district.

The first item, which was discovered by The Herald the day the bill was posted on the Senate's Web site, would double the pay for both the commission and the CEO/Mayor upon completion of a mandated certification process.

According to the bill, "the members of the commission shall be compensated at the rate of $15,000.00 per year from funds of Albany-Dougherty County. Upon attaining certification as either a certified county commissioner or as a certified municipal official pursuant to completion of a voluntary course of training administered by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, each commissioner shall be compensated an additional $15,000 per year. A commissioner who is certified at the time of taking office shall automatically receive the higher rate of compensation."

That language was described by city leaders as an inadvertent error and Herald staff has found no written record where a $15,000 pay raise for commissioners or a $25,000 pay raise for the CEO was ever discussed or voted on by city commissioners.

The other item involves a Georgia House rule that forbids bills that affect partisanship of elected offices from being considered local legislation and would require that the bill meet the crossover day deadline which has already expired. If the House imposes the rule, the bill would die until the next session in January 2011.

Sims said Tuesday that she made a promise to local elected officials that if they presented her with their wishes in terms of a charter for consolidation she would present it, and she feels she has met that obligation.

"I have not made any changes on anything that was sent here and I don't plan on making any," she said. "What was sent up here was the will of the city commission and I will honor that."

"When it goes to the House, if they want to amend it, or adjust it, they can do that and I'll be fine with whatever they decide to do," Sims said.

Sims said that, in terms of House Rule 50, that she believes since its a House rule that the delegates in the House would know best how to deal with it.

"Since its a House rule, it needs to be changed in the House," she said. "And if needs to be changed, I'm OK with it."

The bill is now waiting to move through the SLGO committee before it will be passed by the full Senate. It would then head over to the House and into the Intragovernmental Cooperation Committee.

That committee, chaired by Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, will check the bill to make sure it passes muster on House Rules before it has the opportunity to move out into the full house.

Sims said that she is confident that the measure will make it through the House and leave the General Assembly bound for the U.S. Justice Department which must then approve the maps and the district lines before it can move on for a referendum.