Decision Is Made
To Make Sure All
Input From Public
BY SARAH R. GREGORY
Action by the Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen to make numerous changes to the Town's charter -- including changes that would lengthen the board's terms of office from two years to four and alter the way they are elected -- will not take place for at least three weeks.
The board had been scheduled to vote Tuesday afternoon on two resolutions that would send the proposed changes to the Tennessee General Assembly and Gov. Bill Haslam for consideration, but the aldermen decided to delay action.
"I've had a number of calls -- some pro and some con -- but I'm concerned that due to the [federal Columbus Day] holiday yesterday [Monday], a lot of people have been gone," said Alderman Darrell Bryan at the beginning of discussion on the two resolutions.
"We've worked really hard on being transparent. I'm concerned that if we just push it through, our citizens will feel like they've been neglected," he said, in suggesting that the issue be tabled until the board's next meeting, scheduled for Nov. 5.
Mayor W.T. Daniels responded by reading from an Oct. 6 editorial published in The Greeneville Sun, in which the board was commended for encouraging the public's input during the process of considering possible revisions to the charter.
He said he took the comments in the editorial as a compliment.
Daniels went on to say, however, that "I don't disagree with what you're saying..., Darrell. You make an excellent point. It's really in the board's hands to move forward."
MOTION TO TABLE
In response, Bryan said, "I'd like to make a motion that we table this. That way there's no room for anyone to say they didn't have a chance [to provide input], or that they didn't know the meeting was taking place.
"It's been discussed, but this is the first time we've actually brought it to a meeting for a vote," he said.
"We need to make sure that everyone has time to comment," Bryan added. Alderman Keith Paxton seconded the motion.
"I'd like to comment that this is not something new. This has been going on for two years. There's been meetings and discussions and so forth," said Alderman Buddy Hawk.
"This is a major decision the board has to make," Bryan replied. "Three more weeks is not going to make any difference because it wouldn't go to the [state] legislature until the first of the year."
DISCUSSION OF WARDS
"If it's necessary in between during the three weeks, if we need to do a workshop [about the changes], I think we should look at doing one," said Alderman Keith Paxton. "There are some significant changes [in the proposals]."
In particular, Paxton noted a proposed change that would have the effect of requiring a sitting First Ward alderman to abandon his or her seat in order to run for mayor.
That change is being considered, Daniels said, because of an advantage the current arrangement now gives to First Ward aldermen over Second Ward aldermen.
Under current election procedures, the mayor is elected at-large at the same time as Second Ward aldermen are chosen.
Because an individual may not run for the two offices at the same time, any sitting Second Ward alderman making a mayoral bid would have to abandon his or her seat to qualify for the race.
However, under the current system, a sitting alderman in the First Ward does not have a re-election bid during the same year as the mayoral election. As a result, a First Ward alderman could run for the mayor's office without giving up his/her position as an alderman.
In addition, under the current setup, if a sitting First Ward alderman is elected mayor, Daniels pointed out, the new mayor would then have the authority to make the recommendation as to who should fill his/her unexpired term -- an advantage not shared by theDecond ward.
"I can tell you that if the mayor makes a recommendation, most likely, that's who you're going to have [in that unexpired aldermen's seat]," Daniels said.
"I think it's unhealthy for one side of Church Street [the dividing line between the two wards] to have an advantage over the other side," he added. "You're literally taking a vote away from the people by allowing that."
Under the proposed changes, sitting aldermen from either ward wishing to run for mayor would have to abandon their seats.
Daniels pointed out that the First Ward also has the advantage of selecting the vice-mayor. Under the current system, the first ward alderman with the highest vote total serves as vice-mayor.
Under the proposed changes, members of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen would select the individual to serve as vice-mayor.
The proposed changes would also ensure that each ward has at lesst an race on every ballot -- a change designed to encourage everyone in Town to vote in every election.
"Whether their election is for two years or for four years, one alderman from the First Ward and one alderman from the Second Ward would run," said Alderman Sarah Webster.
"That gives all of the voting citizens in Greeneville an opportunity at every election to make a statement. You still [if four-year terms are adopted] have the opportunity of deleting two aldermen, or adding two aldermen, every two years," she said.
'ALL OF THE VOTERS'
"We want all of the voters in the Town of Greeneville to have a voice in the election, and we want them to come out and vote.
"We don't want them to stay home and say, 'Well, there's nobody in ward one that has a contested election, so there's no need for me to vote.'
"I think that's a shame ... There's no way to read how the whole population feels unless the whole population comes out and votes," Webster concluded.
No members of the public had made formal arrangements to speak to the board at the meeting.
However, following approximately 20 minutes of discussion, Daniels opened the floor to allow members of the audience to speak on the subject if they wished.
'BRINGS IT TO A HEAD'
John M. Jones, Jr., editor of The Greeneville Sun, spoke to the board briefly, commending the members personally and as a group and voicing support of the decision to allow for additional input from citizens.
Jones said that, although the board has discussed the proposed changes for a number of months, the proposals in their final form are just coming into focus for the public.
"The fact that you had the [board retreat on Oct. 4], you brought things to a head, and you decided what was going to be proposed, specifically," he said, "brings it to a head. People are focused on it now."
Jones said there were plenty of reasons for aldermen "to be generous and make allowances to give everyone in the community who wants to be heard on this the chance to call you, see you at church, come by and talk to you, or whatever."
Jones suggested that the proposed changes could be brought up for a referendum vote in the June 2014 municipal elections.
But since the board did not seem to wish to do that, he said, delaying the vote three additional weeks to allow more time for public comment was especially important and appropriate.
He noted that the proposed changes are not only to change the board's length of terms and the way municipal elections are held.
A number of other changes are also being considered, including removal of the chiefs and assistant chiefs of the police and fire departments and the Recorder's office from the Civil Service system.
Other proposed changes include: removing Justice of the Peace and City Judge responsibilities from both the Mayor and Recorder; removing antiquated language such as that referring to "Sabbath breaking,"; removing the board's salaries from the charter and making them part of the budget process; setting redistricting requirements to ensure an equal population balance between the two wards; removing a cap on the amount of police officers the Town may hire; and removing restrictions that prevent the Town from providing funding for festivities, parades, pageants, etc.
A second citizen, Helen Britton, addressed the board briefly to voice support for a referendum vote.
Britton said she commended the board for their work on the proposals, but added, "I do believe this should be given to the people to vote on. I firmly believe that."
POLL WORKER COMMENTS
A third citizen, Max Cox, spoke briefly from the perspective of a poll worker who assists with the municipal elections.
"You have an uncontested election, you open the polls, and you sit there all day until eight o'clock, and at the end of the night, less than a hundred people [have shown] up. That's the problem we've got in the country today," he said.
Cox also commented briefly on the proposal of extending the board's terms saying, "And talk about these four-year terms -- we've got a lot of them up in Washington [D.C.] right now that we're not very happy with, and that's all I've got to say."
A fourth citizen, Joe Aldridge, also spoke briefly, offering praise for the changes proposed and the work of the board.
"I'm just so happy about everything you're doing for the Town of Greeneville, and I appreciate it," he said.
After the comments, the board held no further discussion on the topic, and voted unanimously to table action pertaining to the issue until the Nov. 5 meeting.