By D.L. Bennett
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
Three north Fulton elected officials face questions about whether their support for re-creating Milton County conflicts with their duties.
The questions confronting two school board members and one commissioner go something like this:
— Where do you draw the line on support for local constituencies who might want to see Fulton split when that’s not in the interests of the entire county or public body?
— Should a local office holder take official actions that would undermine the county interests and further the cause of splitting Fulton?
“It’s like having a terrorist in Congress,” said Commissioner Bill Edwards, who brought up the issue before the commission on Wednesday. “Everything we do could be undermined. This is about the future of this county.”
The Fulton County attorney was asked Wednesday to gather information on the activities and intent of a new committee helping advise state lawmakers on what it will take to split up Fulton. Edwards said he hopes to refer the matter to the county’s ethics board for an advisory opinion.
Commissioner Lynne Riley chairs the legislative advisory panel. And, two school board members, Ashley Widener and Katie Reeves, serve with her.
The group was created by House Speaker Pro-Tem Mark Burkhalter (R-Johns Creek) and Rep. Jan Jones (R-Milton), who both have long advocated for creating a new county from the suburbs north of Atlanta. Burkhalter said there’s no conflict.
“This is a legislative advisory committee,” Burkhalter said. “They are all citizens first and elected officials second. This is in no way a conflict. They are fully entitled to have their own positions.”
Riley said Wednesday she would tread very carefully as she makes votes that could impact Fulton’s future and on issues involving the possibility of a new Milton County encompassing the suburbs north of Atlanta. “I respectfully disagree (that there’s a conflict),” Riley said.
Widener said she could understand why opponents of a new Milton County say there’s a potential conflict. She noted her constituency’s overwhelming support for splitting Fulton could conflict with the interests of the countywide school board or school system.
“That’s the tightrope I’m elected to walk,” Widener said. “I’m not going to bury my head in the sand and be so naive as to say this isn’t going to happen.”
The school board has not taken an official position on Milton County. Commissioners are on record as opposing its creation, and that’s prompted them to ask if they can prevent their own members from supporting a new Milton. David Ware, county attorney, said the majority can’t muzzle minority members.
“We are elected to represent the interests of our constituencies,” Riley said. “By design, we don’t always agree. If we did we’d only need one member.”