Tag Archives: commissioners

Ethics Commission Levies $10K Penalties Against 3 Planning Commissioners

The Tennessee Ethics Commission has decided against penalizing 28 planning commissioners around the state who filed financial disclosures late, while voting to levy fines of $10,000 each against three who failed to file any report at all.
City, county and regional planning commissioners were not required to file the financial disclosure statements demanded of most local government officials until this year. A bill passed by the Legislature last year mandated the filings for the first time and they were due Jan. 31.
Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, had some difficulty in notifying planning commissioners around the state of the new law since it appears there is no listing of all in any one place. And he said that some planning commissioners — many of whom serve on a voluntary, unpaid basis — apparently resigned rather than file a statement listing their financial interests.
“We’ve had several planning commissioners call and say, ‘I’m resigning. I’m not going to file’,” he told the commission.
Later, Rawlins said staff did not keep a record of how many such calls were received.
“It might not have been more than 10 or 15,” he said. “Some just called and cussed us out. … They were not happy about doing this.”
Rawlins and the commissioners said during their discussion that, given the requirement was new, those who filed after the deadline — some more than two months late — would simply get a letter saying the commission would take no action, but they would be subject to penalty for late filing if late again next year. The penalty for late filing can be up to $25 per day.
On the other hand, those who had received a notice of the law and never filed a report despite follow-up letters after the deadline had passed, will face the maximum penalty for failure to file, $10,000.
The three who now face $10,000 civil penalties, according to commission documents, are Mike Floyd of the Maury County Planning Commission, Carroll Cate of the Polk County Planning Commission and Cindy Marlow of the Adamsville Planning Commission. They will get letters later this week advising them of the penalty.
If the three now file a disclosure form and offer an apology or explanation, they can ask the commission to reconsider the penalty. People in that situation traditionally can have the penalty reduced substantially or eliminated.
“They (commissioners) are trying to get their attention,” said Rawlins.
State Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston, and Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, introduced a bill in the Legislature earlier this year that would have exempted planning commissioners in their area from filing a disclosure, but later withdrew the measure.

AG: County Commissioners Can Go to Lunch Together

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A state lawmaker says a recent legal opinion from the state’s attorney general has soothed concerns about Tennessee’s open meetings law.
Republican Rep. Tony Shipley of Kingsport said he requested the opinion to clarify that local government officials can meet privately over a meal, as long as they don’t decide public business.
“My county commissioners were concerned they couldn’t even go to lunch together, and I told them I don’t think that’s the intent,” Shipley said. “So essentially that’s what I asked the AG, and he said: No, of course they can go to lunch together.”
Attorney General Bob Cooper cautioned in the opinion that while officials can share meals, they must avoid deliberating about official matters, which “has been defined to mean to ‘examine and consult in order to form an opinion,’ or to ‘weigh arguments for and against a proposed course of action.'”

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Shelby’s Angry Commissioners

Anger erupted like hot lava Wednesday in one of the Shelby County Commission’s most contentious meetings in recent years, reports the Commercial Appeal.
To sum up the main disputes: The previous night, one county commissioner had threatened to hit another. At a committee meeting Wednesday morning, a commissioner introduced a motion to censure two others, saying they had accused him of bribery. Later, another commissioner introduced a resolution that would make it easy to unseat the chairman.
The volcanic session could make it harder for the required nine of 13 commissioners to agree on the matter that sparked the fights: drawing new commission districts for the 2014 elections.
A prolonged stalemate would mean that a court would have to decide the issue — commissioners couldn’t meet a Dec. 31 deadline to agree, and three of them have filed a lawsuit in an effort to get Chancery Court involved in the case, though a judge has said he wants the commissioners to work it out.
One of the commissioners who filed the lawsuit is Republican Terry Roland. He has spoken in favor of a redistricting map that’s based on six two-member districts and one district with a single member.

More on Push for Sunshine Law Revisions

BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A push to dilute Tennessee’s open meetings law is based on a misunderstanding of restrictions now on the books, an open government advocate said.
The Tennessee County Commissioners Association is spearheading an effort to get the General Assembly to amend the Sunshine Law and allow members of government bodies to discuss public affairs in private, as long as the discussion involves less than a quorum.
The law currently forbids two or more officials on a local legislative body, such as a county commission or city council, from meeting privately to deliberate on government matters.
At least two counties have endorsed the effort, and Sullivan County and Unicoi County commissioners are scheduled to take up the issue Monday.

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Governor Wants to Cut Vacant Positions; Some Commissioners Don’t

State agencies are scrambling to save hundreds of long-vacant positions set to be axed next year, warning that abolishing some could harm services for Tennesseans most in need, reports Andy Sher. The move comes in response to a directive from Gov. Bill Haslam that state departments eliminate frozen positions vacant for more than a year unless they can “buy” them back by making cuts in less vital areas.
Human Services Commissioner Raquel Hatter told Haslam the department needs to preserve 214 of 226 positions vacant for more than a year.
If the positions are eliminated, the state risks violating federal standards for providing timely services in areas such as family assistance services, she said.
Family assistance counselors make eligibility determinations for the state’s Families First welfare program, TennCare and food stamps. Thirty-five positions in that area alone have been vacant for more than a year. Hatter is asking to restore them.
“It is typical for each of our eligibility counselors to manage caseloads of 1,500 and some exceeding 3,000,” she told Haslam.
She said the department has used money from vacant positions to pay existing staff overtime.
“To add further pressure,” the commissioner said, “nearly every activity these counselors execute has a corresponding federally regulated timeline for completion.”
…Meanwhile, Labor and Workforce Commissioner Karla Davis is asking to keep what she said are 128 positions out of 142 jobs left vacant for a year or more.
Most are funded entirely by the federal government, which reimburses states for what they spend.
Among Davis’ requests in her presentation to Haslam was $1.8 million to retain 41 full-time and 12 part-time employment security interiewer positions.
…Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Kathryn O’Day is seeking to save 58 long-vacant positions at a cost $1 million that officials consider key in the areas of administration, child and family management and juvenile justice.
…A budget-related document issued by the Haslam administration earlier this year estimated there were 4,813 vacancies among the authorized 48,587 full-time positions in the 2010-11 fiscal year. That left 43,774 filled positions. The document doesn’t say how many vacancies were more than a year old.
In 2008, there were 52,129 authorized positions and 47,714 of them were filled.

Legislative Battle Brewing Over Open Meetings Law

Writing in the subscription-only Tennessee Journal, Ed Cromer reminisces about the last effort to revise the state’s open meetings law – an attempt to strengthen it that failed – and reports on a developing move to soften its provisions.
It appears the battle will be renewed in 2012, as the board of the Tennessee County Commissioners Association has voted to support a bill that would allow commissioners and members of other public boards to discuss issues in private so long as a quorum isn’t present.
But it isn’t clear yet how big a push will be made. The Tennessee Municipal League isn’t involved, and so far counties are not unified on the issue. Championing the proposal is Williamson County Commissioner Bob Barnwell, who until last month was president of the county commissioners association. On Oct. 10, Williamson County commissioners voted 22-0 to adopt a resolution supporting the not-yet-drafted bill.
At least two other commissions, in Obion County and Lewis County, have adopted the resolution, Lewis by a 17-1 vote Monday night. And at least two have defeated it. In Rhea County, the vote last week was 7-2 against. One of the two members supporting it was Ronnie Raper, who succeeded Barnwell as TCCA president.
Tuesday, despite a positive recommendation from its legislative committee, the Anderson County Commission voted 12-4 against the resolution.
The Tennessee Press Association, Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, and other groups will fight any attempt to weaken the open meetings law.
Commonly known as the sunshine law, the open meetings law requires that public notice be given of all meetings of public governing bodies — such as city councils and school boards — and that the meetings take place in public, with all votes cast publicly.
… State Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin), heeding his local commission’s 22-0 vote, is preparing a bill to provide that members of governing bodies may meet and talk in private without giving notice unless they constitute a quorum. However, he also plans to make it clear in the bill that parties to such non-public meetings may not make a decision or attempt to make one.