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Fulton County, down two commissioners, still needs four votes

In Fulton County, the math has gotten harder.

The seven-member board of commissioners is down by two people, with the April death of Vice Chairman Joan Garner and the resignation last month of Chairman John Eaves, who is running for mayor of Atlanta.

Until those seats are filled, the board has just five active members. In order to accomplish anything, it still needs four votes.

“It’s going to be difficult the next few months, only having five commissioners,” Commissioner Liz Hausmann said. “I am a little nervous about that.”

Boards usually aren’t down more than one member at a time, said Dave Wills, the government relations manager with the Association County Commissioners of Georgia. In one south Georgia county, a board of five is operating with only three commissioners because of illness. It takes them three votes to pass a motion.

The election in Fulton is in November, with a December runoff, if needed.

The first test for the slimmed-down board will come on Wednesday, when commissioners are under a tight timeline to approve an already-delayed tax rate. Sharon Whitmore, Fulton’s chief financial officer, said commissioners know how important it is to get tax bills out by October, so money can come in before the end of the year. She expects the three Republicans and two Democrats will be motivated to make that happen.

The two Democrats on the board, Emma Darnell and Marvin Arrington, did not return phone calls seeking comment about the makeup of the board. Hausmann won’t be at Wednesday’s meeting, but intends to vote for the county tax rate by phone. The rest of the votes will need to be in total agreement.

In past years, much rancor existed between the commissioners. An influx of new board members changed that, but Eaves and Garner were two of the more conciliatory commissioners. Some worry there would now be more division with their absence.

“It’s an unusual time,” Commissioner Lee Morris said. “We’re certainly going to do our best to talk to each other with respect, to hear each other out. You don’t see the bickering and ugliness that’s been true in the past.”

Because the county government has set a number of plans in motion already — things like a transit study and building renovations — Vice Chairman Bob Ellis said he’s confident leaders won’t “slip into dysfunction or gridlock.” Ellis, who is leading the board until a new chairman is elected, said he plans to collaborate with other commissioners who have diverging views on, for example, what should be in the county budget.

“I think it’ll be critical to do that in this capacity,” he said. “It’s important that none of that work gets derailed. Definitely, my objective coming into this role is not for us to tread water.”

Still, Rusty Paul, the mayor of Sandy Springs, is particularly concerned about possible delays with both the transit study and discussions about the creation of a water authority.

“We’re going to lose a few more months,” he said. “Until you get a full commission, I think it’s going to be a challenge.”

Ellis said he plans to pick up the mantle to make sure nothing is dropped.

“There’ll be no slowing down or treading water or just trying to make do until another chairman comes in,” he said. “If I don’t focus on driving consensus, we’re going to wind up being an ineffective government.”

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