Richmond Hill resident Sheila Miner Galbreath believes the time has come for the county seat to be moved from Pembroke to Richmond Hill.
To try and make the switch a reality she’s started a petition, hoping to garner enough signatures to get the matter on a ballot so voters can decide on the location of the county’s seat.
"Overall I think it would be a plus in this area," Galbreath said. "(The county seat) should be in an area centrally located to be convenient to all citizens of Bryan County which would be in city limits of Richmond Hill."
Galbreath cited the amount of taxes paid by Richmond Hill residents, as well as what she called a limited number of support services available in Pembroke, as good reasons why the county seat should be moved.
"It’s a logistical nightmare to try a court case in Pembroke," she said. "Support facilities are limited in Pembroke. If you need copy or reporting services, you’re limited. Anything involved in civil litigation services you need to go somewhere else to get it."
County Commissioner Toby Roberts said he disagrees with Galbreath’s claims that moving the county seat would be beneficial to residents in Bryan County.
"I think the county seat should stay in Pembroke where it is and where it has been for many years," said Roberts, who is serving his fifth term on the commission. "We are one county and I say that very loud and clear, even though we are separated by Fort Stewart in the middle."
The county seat has been in Pembroke since 1937, when it was moved from Clyde.
Roberts said nearly every service available in Pembroke can be accessed in Richmond Hill, including the magistrate and probate judges, clerk of court, planning and zoning, and the tag office.
"Ninety-nine percent of everything you would deal with the county for you can deal in south Bryan County," he said. "You have to come to Pembroke to attend our meetings, and that’s where the other 1 percent is."
According to Roberts, moving the county seat wouldn’t mean county commission meetings would be automatically held in Richmond Hill. He said it would instead require a change to Bryan County’s constitution, which would have to be approved by state legislators. Commissioners can meet wherever they please but can only vote at the courthouse in Pembroke, where their monthly meetings are held.
But Roberts said that could change.
"In the future I foresee the board going to two meetings a month, with one in south Bryan County," he said. "I think it will happen in the next five years. It’s a fairly complicated process, and I think more so that we felt like it’s approaching the time to do that but the time hasn’t come yet."
Galbreath also wants a new courthouse in Richmond Hill.
"It has to be a nightmare to keep up that old courthouse," she said. "This end of the county supports everything that goes on in that courthouse. If you take a look, most coastal communities have abandoned the old courthouses and turned them into museums and archives. We need a new and modern facility in Richmond Hill."
But Roberts said the courthouse is an historic landmark and still serves its purpose.
"I strongly disagree with Ms. Galbreath’s position to move the county courthouse to south Bryan County," he said. "I cannot think of one good reason to even consider it. And I don’t believe that it would win - in fact I know it would not win enough support from south Bryan or north Bryan County."
While Galbreath said Pembroke, compared to Richmond Hill, is like taking a step back in time, Roberts said the town is growing by leaps and bounds.
"North Bryan County is growing at a very rapid pace," Roberts said. "There are about as many building permits for new houses being issued in north Bryan as there are in south Bryan. Both ends of the county are growing."
Galbreath said her petition is a grass-roots movement to make change in the county.
"It’s a petition to let the people of Bryan County vote, that’s all we want," she said. "The county leaders don’t seem to be very interested in anything anyone else has to say. Our county government has operated because of the distance to Pembroke and the time of the meetings…with little time for the residents of Richmond Hill to participate in meetings."
Ellabell resident Letha Murchison, who works in Richmond Hill, said she thinks moving the county seat from Pembroke to Richmond Hill is a good idea. She said the growth and the variety of people in Richmond Hill would make it an ideal place for the county’s governmental facilities to be located.
"We need new ideas and change," said Murchison, a life-long Bryan County resident. "(The county leaders) get too comfortable and don’t check the needs of the people," she said.
Richmond Hill resident Susan Lynah said she’s in favor of the idea as well.
"I think it needs to be done," she said. "We have most of the growth in Richmond Hill and more of the problems that need to be settled…with the growth and expansion."
Galbreath and supporters of the measure will be at the Miner Service Station with the petition from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. on Saturday. Under Georgia Code 36-4-1 the probate judge is required to put the matter up for a vote if there’s a petition with two-fifths of a county electorate’s signatures requesting a change in the county’s seat.
Galbreath’s petition, available on her web site at www.bryancounty.net, simply states the county seat be moved to be convenient to citizens who reside in all districts.
The Bryan County Board of Commissioners normally meets the first Tuesday of every month at 1:15 p.m. in the courthouse annex in Pembroke.