Tag Archives: county commission

Washington County anti-gay marriage resolution falls short

The Washington County Commission fell one vote short of approving a resolution opposing same-sex marriage early today, reports the Johnson City Press.

Commissioner Forrest Boreing attributed the failure to opposition from the East Tennessee State University community.

“It was split by (East Tennessee State University),” Boreing said after the 7-hour meeting. “There are so many people from that school that showed up tonight. Most of the colleges do have more liberal attitudes, but that makes for good discussions.”

The 12-11 vote to approve the resolution failed because supporters needed 13 to capture a majority of the 25-seat County Commission. (It) came nearly 6.5 hours into the meeting, after a nearly hour-long discussion by commissioners on a measure to drop the resolution from the agenda and more than three hours of public comments.

Hundreds packed five courtrooms of the George Jaynes Justice Center and spilled out into upstairs and downstairs foyers, watching the 57 public speakers and the Commission’s debate on projection televisions specially wired for the occasion.
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Overcrowding prompts cancellation of gay marriage vote

The Washington County Commission canceled its entire meeting Monday when overcrowding for a scheduled vote on a resolution supporting one-man one-woman marriage created concerns the county could be violating Tennessee Open Meetings Act, reports the Johnson City Press.

Following orders from a barking sheriff’s deputy for those still trying to find a seat inside the packed 200-seat George Jaynes Justice Center courtroom to clear the aisle and move outside, Senior Attorney Tom Seeley advised commissioners they should heed the wants of the estimated 150 to 200 left in the foyer.

“This is a public meeting, and anyone wishing to attend should at least be able to listen to the proceedings,” Seeley said. “Otherwise, we may be violating the state’s public records law. If people are physically left out of a meeting, the county must supply the means with which they can hear.”

Commissioner David Tomita, also a Johnson City commissioner, said he had spoken with his city colleagues who agreed to try to find an opening at the Millennium Centre. That suggestion carried in a 13-10 vote.

Public notice must be given for that special called meeting, regardless of location.

Commissioner Todd Hensley expressed doubts about the deferral prior to the vote asking, “How can we derail all our business for one issue?”

Frank Gibson, Tennessee Press Association public policy director, said Seeley made the right move. He also said a judge recently ruled in the Greeneville and Greene County, US Nitrogen case that deliberations at public meetings covered by the Open Meetings Act must be audible in order to comply with the law.

“I applaud the county attorney’s advice about canceling the meeting,” Gibson said.

Dickson County approves anti-gay marriage resolution

CHARLOTTE, Tenn. (AP) — Dickson County commissioners have unanimously approved a resolution to disagree with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage.

WTVF-TV (http://bit.ly/1OEK4tV ) reports Tuesday night’s decision made Dickson the sixth county in the state to approve a resolution such as this. The resolution asks for an amendment to the U.S. constitution to give states the power to define marriage.

In 2006, Tennessee voted to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

A large crowd of residents showed up to the commission meeting. Some wore blue in support of the resolution; others wore red in support of same-sex marriage.

Commissioner Jeff Eby says the resolution was approved to let the state know how the county feels about the issue.

Hawkins commissioner quits to take state House seat

The Hawkins County Commission has scheduled a Dec. 21 meeting to select a temporary successor to Mike Harrison in the House District 9 seat, reports the Kingsport Times News.

And Gary Hicks, who has chaired the commission’s budget committee for six years, has resigned his seat on the commission in anticipation of being appointed to succeed Harrison, R-Rogersville.

Hicks has been touted as the favorite for the commission’s appointment to that seat.

Rogersville Realtor and former state Senate candidate Cynthia Bundren-Jackson has announced she is running for the seat when it comes up for election in 2016.

The District 6 commission seat vacated by Hicks will come up for appointment by the county commission at its Jan. 25 meeting.

All Hawkins County Commission seats come up for re-election in 2018.

Harrison announced in October that he would resign the seat in December — and he did so last week — to become executive director of the Tennessee Association of County Mayors effective Jan. 1. The district covers both Hancock and Hawkins counties.
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AG deflates county commissioner pay raise hopes

An attorney general’s opinion has thrown cold water on arguments that Hamilton County commissioners – and perhaps commissioners elsewhere – have been paid too little for years.

The opinion basically explains commissioner compensation law in four counties – Davidson, Knox, Hamilton, Sullivan.

At issue was a state law generally setting salaries for commissioners in those counties at $25,000 and a contention that Hamilton County, at least, had been mistakenly applying another statute that has commissioners paid about $4,000 less. Some argued that commissioners should get the higher salary, plus back pay for years.

The attorney general’s office concludes that the cited $25,000 statute never applied to Davidson, Hamilton or Sullivan counties because of what amounts to a printing error. As approved by the Legislature in 1975, the law specifically applied only in “counties having a county commission form of government” – but the quoted phrase was dropped when state statute books were printed or “codified,” to use the proper legal term.

Davidson, Hamilton and Sullivan counties do not have a ‘county commission form of government,” as that phrase is legally defined, and so are not covered, the opinion says. It says Knox County was covered at one point, but not after 1980.

(Note: The full opinion is HERE – and provides something of a history lesson on county government matters along with the legal reasoning.)

The Chattanooga Times-Free Press reports that not all commissioners are convinced by the opinion.

Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Beck says and other commissioners deserve more money… (and) he plans to seek another opinion.

“It’s like going to the doctor. You don’t just get one opinion,” Beck said. “You don’t take one opinion on anything unless it is God.”

…Commissioner Joe Graham has said for months that commissioners should not be concerned with cushioning their salaries, and he said Wednesday that he appreciates the attorney general’s clarity on the matter.

“It is time for everyone to move on,” Graham said.

But Beck disagrees, and he said the commission will find another option to increase its annual pay.

Registry slashes $10K fine to $25 after emotional appeal

A $10,000 fine levied against Knox County Commissioner Amy Broyles has been reduced to $25 by the state Registry of Election Finance board after she described various medical difficulties that interfered with her ability to file campaign finance paperwork.

Broyles had missed the deadline for filing her annual financial disclosure and failed to respond to repeated notices sent over almost a year, leading to imposition of the $10,000 civil penalty — the maximum under state law for such a violation.

But Wednesday, Broyles and her attorney, former state Revenue Commissioner John King of Knoxville, appeared before the board and asked for a reconsideration. She prepared a four-page, single-spaced statement outlining various surgeries, including two brain operations, and other conditions — financial and emotional — affecting her and her family during the period the report was not filed.

“I know I was sent reminders about filing deadlines that year, but I honestly do not remember them,” the statement says. “I also don’t remember anniversary and birthday celebrations during that time. But I know they happened and I was there because I have seen the pictures. I filed something, somewhere, albeit late.”

King wound up reading the statement for Broyles after she became distraught and tearful over disclosing such personal information in a public setting, the commissioner and the attorney said afterward.

With little debate, the board voted to slash the fine. One board member first proposed reducing the penalty to $100; others said that still seemed too high. The board settled on $25, which Broyles said later seemed “appropriate, just and fair.”
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Judge rules Hamilton County Commission prayers OK

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Hamilton County may continue asking local clergy to deliver prayers before commission meetings.

In a Wednesday ruling, U.S. District Judge Sandy Mattice cited U.S. Supreme Court decisions that prayers offered before the meetings of legislative bodies are constitutional.

He quoted a 2014 Supreme Court decision that reads, in part, “legislative prayer lends gravity to public business, reminds lawmakers to transcend petty differences in pursuit of a higher purpose, and expresses a common aspiration to a just and peaceful society.”

Two Chattanooga men had claimed that the prayers given before Hamilton County Commission meetings improperly promote Christianity. Mattice rejected those claims. In his order, he noted that Jewish and Unitarian Universalist clergy have been among those chosen to give invocations.

Hamilton County selects invocation speakers from a list of all the religious congregations represented in the local Yellow Pages. Institutions not on the list, may request inclusion. The commission does not review the invocations in advance and only asks that the prayers neither proselytize nor denigrate the religious faith or non-religious views of others, according to court documents.

As part of the lawsuit, plaintiff Thomas Coleman complained that his request to deliver an invocation before the commission was rejected after he declared that he did not represent any religious assembly or congregation. Mattice ruled that the county is under no obligation to allow every individual who asks to deliver a prayer.

Mattice said the courts have established that legislative prayers cannot be used as a pretext to promote one faith over another, but they may favor religion over non-religion.
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AG opinion sought on county commissioners’ salary snafu

Victor Ashe, who as a state senator sponsored a 1975 law on county commission salaries, says the measure should have been repealed after an amendment to the state constitution that was approved two years later. But it’s still on the books and now may mean salary increases — and thousands of dollars in back pay – for county commissioners in Hamilton, Knox and Sullivan counties.

So reports the Times-Free Press:

Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said he’s writing state lawmakers to ask Attorney General Herbert Slatery III to settle a question about what part of state law set the commission’s salaries here. The answer could mean a $4,000-a-year difference to current commissioners plus, possibly, a chunk of change in back pay.

The law in use now in Hamilton County dates back to 1978. It sets salaries at $3,600 a year, with discretion for increases. After 37 years, and several legislative actions, rank-and-file commissioners now are paid $21,902 annually.

A recently discovered 1975 law says they — along with Knox and Sullivan counties — should have been making $25,000 the whole time.

A salary of $25,000 in 1975 had the same buying power as about $109,071 in today’s terms, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But the man who wrote that law said Wednesday it was meant for three commissioners who were running an entire county government, and was never intended for perpetuity.

Victor Ashe, former Knoxville mayor, Tennessee senator and U.S. ambassador, said the 1975 law was only meant for three special commissioners in Knox County, and should have gone away in 1978.

“We had a hyphenated government. We had a county judge and a quarterly court that set the tax rates, and a three-member commission that ran day-to-day government. There was a roads commissioner, a welfare commissioner and a finance commissioner,” Ashe said Wednesday.

The legislation, which he sponsored as a state senator along with then-Rep. Sandra Clark, was tailored for Knox County, the only one at the time with “county commissioners.” Davidson County had already formed a metropolitan government with Nashville, and the others had county councils or quarterly courts.

And according to Ashe, the 1975 law should have gone away when county governments across the state were revamped by a constitutional convention. But that didn’t happen.

“It would seem to be an inapplicable law that needs to be repealed. It’s irrelevant in today’s Tennessee,” he said.

Historic mistake leaves county commissioners underpaid for 37 years?

Excerpt from a Times-Free Press story:
Hamilton County commissioners this week scrambled to avoid giving themselves $4,000 raises. But it turns out they’ve been underpaying themselves for 37 years.

At commissioners’ wishes, state Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, withdrew a bill Thursday that would have removed a 1991 amendment to state law that tied commission pay to the county mayor’s salary.

But in fact, the commission not only amended the wrong law in 1991, they’ve been using the same wrong law to set their salaries since the commission was founded in 1978. And they are not the only ones.

The House Fiscal Review Committee determined that if the amendment in Tennessee Code Annotated 5-5-107 were removed, Hamilton County commissioners would be paid under a 1975 law, T.C.A. 8-24-115.

That law says salaries for commissioners in counties with 100,000 to 600,000 residents must be $25,000 or more. That group would include Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Sullivan counties. Shelby County’s population exceeded the limit in 1970.

Currently, Hamilton County commissioners are paid $21,368 a year.

Eddie Weeks, legislative librarian for the Tennessee General Assembly, said the 1975 law has never been changed.

County Attorney Rheubin Taylor, who was on that first County Commission in 1978, said commissioners set their pay at the first meeting at $3,600 a year.

He wasn’t aware of the 1975 law until this week — and neither were officials in the other three affected counties.

“The statue, it clearly says that, but nobody knew about it. And nobody’s following it,” Taylor said.

In fact, commissioners in Knox, Sullivan and Davidson counties all make less than Hamilton County commissioners, Taylor said.

“That’s all I know about it. And nobody knows why nobody knew about it. It’s in a different section of the code than all the other county items, maybe that has something to do with it,” Taylor said.

Note: Previous post HERE.

County commissioner charged with taking gun to school

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (AP) — A Williamson County commissioner is facing a gun charge.

According to WKRN-TV (http://bit.ly/1wPoKxs), Barb Sturgeon turned herself in on Friday after a grand jury charged her with carrying or possessing a gun on school grounds.

The charges stem from a November incident in which Sturgeon reportedly carried a gun into a work session for the Williamson County School Board.

“The commissioner had a purse which resembled a purse that she had previously displayed on Facebook, which had a holster and a pistol inside,” Sheriff Jeff Long said in a statement. “A weapon was found in her purse.”

A spokeswoman for the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office said Sturgeon bonded out Friday after paying $5,000. She is due in court on Dec. 15.