Glynn County officials say they will take the state to court if the governor signs legislation allowing voters to decide the fate of the Glynn County Police Department.
“In our opinion, it’s unconstitutional,” said Glynn County Commission Chairman Mike Browning. “If (Gov. Brian Kemp) does sign it, we would mount a defense in court on those grounds.”
Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak, told The News the process of allowing voters to decide the future of the county police department required three bills, all of which the General Assembly approved the last two weeks it was in session.
Ligon sponsored the bills in the Senate while Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, backed them in the House.
The first bill would give the state the authority to dissolve county police departments; the second would ask voters what they believe should happen to the Glynn County Police Department — whether it should be dissolved, leaving law enforcement to the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office or remain a separate entity; the third would ask voters if the county should be forced to abide by the results of the vote.
County officials have argued the bill violates the state Constitution’s home rule statute and the Constitutional power granted to counties to create police departments.
The third member of Glynn County’s delegation to the Georgia General Assembly, Rep. Jeff Jones, R-St. Simons Island, contends the legislation is unconsitutional for the same reason.
Browning also noted the bills were effectively singling out Glynn County given the timing of their approval so close to the general election and their limited lifespan.
The bill allowing the state to dissolve county police departments will be automatically removed in 2022.
“Ligon and Hogan plainly made it clear on the floors of the House and Senate that this is about Glynn County, and the constitution applies to all counties,” Browning said.
Neither was shy about admitting their intentions.
“The reason we put a sunset (date) of 2022 is so it doesn’t affect any of the other counties around the state,” Hogan told The News earlier this week. “We have 14 other counties around the state (with police departments) and we didn’t want them to think we were attacking them.”
While the county supports the right of citizens to vote on important issues, Browning said citizens should not vote on every issue. The representative form of government the county operates under requires that some decisions be handled by elected officials.
Whether the police department remains or goes is one such decision that should be handled by the elected county commissioners, he said.
“To think that the entire voting population can and should vote on everything that comes up, it just doesn’t work that way,” Browning said.