Spivey succeeds Neill as chairman

Friday, September 18, 2009

The split nature of the Marshall County Commission was revealed again Tuesday night when a new chairman and chairman pro tem were elected by nearly the same array of votes.

Commissioner Billy Spivey, who's pressed for reform of bidding practices and strict adherence to procedures, succeeded Commissioner Mary Ann Neill who let it be known before the meeting that she didn't want to be nominated.

Spivey was elected on a 10-8 vote over Commissioner Mickey King, chairman of the Budget Committee.

The same vote count, 10-8, elected Commissioner Tony White to a position that's little more than a reserve chairman. White received two more votes than Commissioner Rocky Bowden who said he'd served as chairman pro tem before and in all the time he was chairman pro tem, he chaired a commission meeting only once.

There were no nominating speeches or public campaign appeals. In fact, Spivey says he "absolutely" did not campaign for the job and he added with a grin, "I appreciate everybody's condolences."

Other county leaders acknowledged condolences were about as appropriate as congratulations.

The vote counts for chairman and chairman pro tem indicate alliances because the votes' alignments were remarkably similar. There were two exceptions.

Commissioner Jimmy Stitt voted for Chairman Spivey and then for Commissioner Bowden, but as the voting for pro tem was being closed by County Clerk Daphne Fagan, she asked a routine procedural question. Did any commissioner wish to change their vote? At that point, Bowden and White had nine votes each for chairman pro temp. Stitt accepted Fagan's offer and changed his vote from Bowden to White, thereby breaking the tie.

Commissioner Tony Williams, the man who was appointed last month to succeed Linda Williams-Lee, voted for Spivey for chairman and White for pro tem.

In both elections other commissioners voted as follows:

* Voting for Spivey as chairman and Bowden as pro tem were: Commissioners Spivey, Seth Warf, Phil Willis, Richard Medley, Dean Delk, E.B. Hill, Bowden and Scottie Poarch, thereby making a block of eight votes countered by another block of eight.

* Voting for King as chair and White for pro tem were Commissioners Don Ledford, White, Reynelle Smith, Wilford "Spider" Wentzel, Larry McKnight, Neill, King and Jimmy Wolaver.

One way of looking at the change in the chairmanship could be from a commissioner who might have been perceived as one who saw the ends justifying the means, while the other might not mind being described as a stickler for proper procedures.

As for "anything that comes across the table," Spivey said after the meeting, "We'll strive to have it done as prescribed, which is no different from what I advocated before."

When Neill succeeded Sam Smith as chairman of the commission, she automatically became a member of the Marshall County Board of Public Utilities, a water utility wholly owned by the county that, by default, becomes its service area.

Neill is also a member of the County Planning Commission and the Board of Zoning Appeals, two panels that have less work during a recession when new construction is down. But their work is complicated. The BZA is a quasi-judicial board. Planning commissioners make recommendations on land rezoning that can increase or decrease land values.

As they are time-consuming, Neill also has her own business to help support her family. She's a real estate appraiser.

Still, there have been moments when Neill has released the chairman's gavel and swapped chairs with King, the now former chairman pro tem, so she could speak from the floor instead of maintaining an air of neutrality while presiding over commission meetings.

Neill had mentioned last week that she would prefer to leave the position of presiding officer because it has advantages and fewer responsibilities.

"Assume the position," Neill said to Spivey when they walked by each other when he accepted the gavel and she took a seat at the meeting table.