Goal Of Drive Is Moving To County Government Based On Local Charter
Rather Than State Charter
The Greene County Election Commission will meet Monday in a special called session to review a petition requesting the election of a local "charter commission."
Election of a charter commission is an important step in a legal process that supporters of the petition hope will eventually lead to Greene County's adopting "home rule" under a charter that county residents themselves draft and approve.
Greene County has always operated under a charter approved by the Tennessee General Assembly, and has used a governmental structure -- county offices, duties and powers of the offices, etc. -- prescribed by state law.
Almost all Tennessee counties and municipalities also operate with state charters and under state laws relating to local government, but five of the state's counties operate on a home-rule basis with their own charters.
The local petition supporting a move to home rule began circulating in October 2012 during a rally sponsored by the local group "Citizens for Greene County Home Rule."
A similar group has since met as "Greene County Taxpayers," soliciting signatures on the petition in order to begin the process of moving to a charter-based county government.
During these rallies, members have emphasized the desire to set their own "rules" by which the government operates, particularly with regard to the issues of term limits for elected officials, conflicts of interest by elected officials, and new or increased property taxes.
RIGHT TO ADOPT CHARTER
PK Lowrey, of Greeneville, a member of Greene County Taxpayers and a leader of the petition drive, is a strong supporter of moving to a "home rule" form of local government.
"[If the petition is confirmed by the Election Commission,] Greene County will become the first Upper East Tennessee county to establish a charter commission," Lowrey wrote this week in an email to area news media organizations.
"Although permitted by the Tennessee Constitution, only five counties in the state have adopted home rule charters," he said.
The right for counties to have a charter form of government is provided under the Tennessee Constitution, through a 1978 amendment, as well as under state law (Tennessee Code Annotated § 5-1-201).
1,957 VALID SIGNATURES
State law allows for creation of a charter commission in any of three ways: by majority vote of the county commission; by proclamation by the county mayor, ratified by two-thirds vote of the county commission; or by petition.
Under the petition option, "The statute requires the petition to contain a number of signatures from registered voters equal to at least 10 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election," Administrator of Elections Donna Burgner said Tuesday.
"The total number of votes cast in the Nov. 2, 2010, governor race was 15,705; therefore, the number of valid signatures needed for the charter petition was 1,571.
"As of Dec. 12, 2013, the Election Commission office verified 1,957 valid signatures [on the charter commission petition]," Burgner said.
ELECTION COMMISSION TO MEET
Certifying these signatures was quite a task, she said, especially with the upcoming 2014 party primary elections and county general election, along with filings for the primaries.
"We tried to balance all that and work on it continuously, but it did require us to sometimes have extended hours," Burgner said. "We wanted to complete it in a timely manner."
The Election Commission will meet Monday to review Burgner's certification of the names and to take any appropriate follow-up actions regarding the petition's call for the election of seven charter commission members, one from each County Commission district.
If the board approves Burgner's certification of the petition, she will confirm the certification with County Clerk David Thompson.
ELECTION OF CHARTER COMMISSION
After this confirmation, the Election Commission would then be able to issue petitions to be used by persons who wish to run for election to the charter commission.
Any qualified voter would be eligible to be elected as a member of the charter commission.
Such an election would take place at the same time as the May 2014 County Primary Elections, but would be a nonpartisan election, Burgner said.
ROLE OF CHARTER COMMISSION
Those elected to the charter commission would then draw up a charter for a home rule-based county government.
The charter would deal with various matters related to the structure of a county government, including what county offices would exist and what the powers and duties of those offices would be.
The charter would then be presented to Greene County voters in a referendum, to be either adopted as the new structure of county government or rejected in favor of continuing the current form of county government under a state charter and following state laws pertaining to local government.
LIMITATIONS ON LOCAL CHARTER
State law notes that "no right, power, duty, obligation or function of any officer, agency or office of such county shall be retained and continued unless this part or the charter of such county expressly so provides, or unless such retention and continuation be required by the Constitution of Tennessee.
"The adoption of a charter shall not have the effect of removing the incumbent from any county office or abridging the term or altering the salary prior to the end of the term for which such public officer was elected."
A charter also may not affect the judicial system other than in the levying of fees and court costs, and the procedure for filling vacancies.