New Polk chair could break tradition

Published 12:43 am Monday, December 6, 2010

Many residents began speculating weeks ago as to whether  Polk commissioners will break a long-standing tradition of appointing the high voter getter as chairman.
Newly elected county commissioners Ted Owens (R), who was the high vote getter last month, Ray Gasperson (D) and Tom Pack (R) will be sworn in tonight along with Polk County Sheriff Donald Hill.
Polk County has most years appointed the high vote getter as chair of the board of commissioners. This year could be different, though, because Democrats hold a majority on the board.
Commissioners and commissioner elects received a petition last week from some Saluda residents urging the board to stick with tradition.
“We the undersigned understand that the Polk County Board of Commissioners has followed a tradition for some time of appointing the commissioner with the highest number of votes received in the latest election, as the chairman of the commission,” stated the petition signed by six Saluda residents.
“We also understand by rumor that this tradition, for some reason, will not be honored for the current appointment. We request that this time-honored tradition be followed for the appointment of chairman at the next scheduled Polk County Board of Commissioner’s meeting.”
Following the 2006 election, Owens and Pack, both Republicans, did not vote for the top vote getter, Tommy Melton, then a Democrat.
Melton went on to be appointed chair by gaining three votes, one from himself, one from then-Democrat Warren Watson and one from Republican Harry Denton. Denton said at the time he felt he should do the right thing and vote for the high vote getter.
Pack was appointed vice-chair in 2006, with votes from himself, Owens and Denton.
Melton and Watson later changed their party to Unaffiliated, and both lost in this year’s election.
The current chair is Cindy Walker (D), who has held the position for two years but could step down tonight. Gasperson currently holds the vice-chair position and was the only incumbent to retain his seat this year. Commissioner Renée McDermott (D) also holds a seat.
Owens and Gasperson each won four-year terms on the board last month. Owens won by 205 votes over Gasperson for the top vote-getter, with 3,630 and 3,425 votes respectively. Pack won a two-year term, being just 36 votes behind Gasperson with 3,389 votes. Owens was the top vote getter in five of Polk’s seven precincts.
The current board of commissioners, which includes Melton, Gasperson, McDermott, Walker and Watson will open the meeting tonight to handle a couple of minor items of business along with outgoing speeches and plaques. The new board will then take over after the swearing-in ceremony and choose a chair and vice-chair.
Another appointment to be made tonight is county attorney. The current attorney, Mike Egan, has served the past several months on an interim basis. The new board will vote on whether to appoint Egan as the permanent attorney.
The board of commissioners meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the upstairs meeting room of the Womack Building in Columbus.

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