BY SARAH GREGORY
Changes to the Town of Greeneville's charter that would affect the election process were discussed at the third charter workshop hosted by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
Work toward revising the charter is ongoing and still in the discussion phase. More work sessions may be scheduled in the future.
The following text outlines each of the proposed changes discussed Tuesday, the reasons presented for the proposed change, and highlights of conversations related to the proposed change.
REMOVING THE WARD CONCEPT
Revisions to two sections of the charter regarding the Town's election structure in two wards were discussed, but not agreed to. The charter currently states:
"said Town of Greeneville shall consist of only two Wards to be marked and divided by Church Street in said Town, the territory lying North of Church Street to constitute the First Ward, and the terrirtory lying south of Church Street to constitute the Second Ward of said Town," and, in the same section, "each Alderman shall be resident of the ward from which he is elected and shall have resided within said ward for one year before his election, and any Alderman removing from the ward from which he is elected after his election shall thereby vacate his office."
The change was proposed by City Administrator Todd Smith in hopes that future elected aldermen will consider decisions from a town-wide perspective, as opposed to Ward-specific perspectives.
Another reason for the proposal, Smith said, relates to municipal elections and the fact that 2nd Ward aldermen run on the same ballot as mayoral elections while the 1st Ward is never on the same ballot as a mayoral election.
Aldermen, however, appeared to be more in favor of retaining the ward system and ensuring that they are more evenly divided.
"I think it's a good thing to have the wards," said Sarah E.T. Webster, suggesting that the process be changed in such a way that an alderman from each ward be on the ballot at the same time.
She added that, in the time that she's been on the board -- 23 years -- aldermen "have never really zeroed in on the one ward that they represent."
"I think that [electing aldermen from two separate wards] ensures you have representation from across Greeneville," she added.
The board appeared to be in agreement on continuation of the ward system and also of a process of re-evaluation in the future to ensure that the Town's population is divided equally between the wards.
Ginny Kidwell, a former 2nd Ward Alderman, addressed the board briefly in favor of the ward system.
She agreed with Webster that aldermen do not tend to focus only on their ward, and added that it helps keep them close to the people they represent.
1st Ward Alderman Keith Paxton agreed.
DIVISION 'FAIRLY CLOSE'
"I would strongly urge us to do a review [of the population in the two Wards] every 10 years based on the national census," said Smith.
"We may realize we don't need change; [the population division is] still pretty even," he added.
During a review of voter numbers with Administrator of Elections Donna Burgner, aldermen were surprised to discover that the population split between the wards was more even than expected.
"I'm surprised, really, that it's fairly close," said Mayor W.T. Daniels, referring to a difference of only 525 people in the two wards' populations.
As of the 2010 Census, the 1st Ward had a total population of 7,590 and the 2nd Ward had a total population of 7,065.
As discussion continued, the possibility of redistricting or changing district boundaries was considered. It was quickly realized, however, that such a process is difficult logistically and must fall in line within the state's redistricting period.
Tennessee state law requires that districts are redrawn every 10 years based upon the most current federal Census.
The last Census was conducted in 2010 and the most recent redistricting process was completed -- as dictated by law -- by Jan. 1, 2012.
The next redistricting period will take place following the federal Census of 2020.
Smith suggested the board remove language in the charter setting Church Street as the dividing line.
As discussion progressed, Webster suggested a change that would address the issue of mayoral elections occurring only in conjunction with 2nd Ward Alderman elections.
She suggested adjusting the terms in such a way that one alderman from each ward would be on the ballot each time, thereby encouraging voters from both wards to turn out.
MOVING ELECTION DAY
One proposed change is an addition that would move the date upon which municipal elections are held.
It would move the Town's Election Day, which has been in early June, to coincide with the Greene County General Election, which is held in early August, as a cost-savings measure.
The language proposed, which also assumes that the board favors changing from two-year to four-year terms, states:
"The two aldermen elected in June of 2013 shall serve until the date of the general county election in August of 2016. Thereafter they shall be elected every four years. The two aldermen elected in June of 2014 shall serve until the date of the general county election in August of 2018. Thereafter they shall be elected every four years."
The change would not be able to take effect until 2016, Smith noted, adding that some adjustments would likely have to be made -- such as extending current terms by a few months to fit the schedule.
'PROPERTY RIGHTS VOTERS'
Discussion included comments from David Crum, a member of the Greene County Commission.
Crum expressed some concern about "property rights voters" -- individuals who live outside the Greeneville city limits and vote in county elections, but own property in the city and are, therefore, allowed a vote in municipal elections.
Crum noted that the process could be confusing as such individuals would vote at their county precinct and then again at a city precinct.
The board understood the point and discussed possible ways to address it, including proposals currently in the State Legislature that would allow ballots to be cast by mail.
It was also noted that it would be a non-issue for people who vote early at the Election Commission Office.
"It seems to me this [moving Election Day] is going to be a savings," said Daniels, referring to the fact that the cost of having precincts open would be left to the county, which must have them open anyway.
"It would simplify things for people's minds to have a [single] date," Webster remarked.
She noted what she said is the opportunity for confusion in having a series of elections in years that have primary elections, municipal elections, and general elections, since in those years voting precincts would be open in May, June, and August.
"I think the timing of that might be more beneficial than the money we save," agreed 2nd Ward Alderman Darrell Bryan.
CHANGING TERM LENGTHS
One proposed change would eliminate language setting the mayor's and aldermen's terms of office at two years, while another change, detailed above, would alter the length to four years.
The charter's current language states:
"After the election in June, 1904, when one half the Aldermen shall be elected for one year, the term of office of all officers of said town elected by the qualified voters therof shall be for two years, and until their succesors are elected and qualified."
Smith says the change is proposed in order to provide aldermen with terms long enough to make a practical impact on the Town.
He commented that a two-year term is not enough time to effectively implement strategies and can lead to more politically motivated actions as officials must start considering re-election only one year into their terms.
"I haven't seen it in Greeneville, but there can be, during an election season, decisions being made based on an election coming up," Smith said.
'NOT MUCH CONSENSUS'
Paxton voiced support for remaining on two-year terms, commenting, "it didn't bother me to run twice [within four years]."
"It's really a commitment," said Daniels of a four-year term, noting that people are already generally hesitant to run for office. "I just hope [a four-year term] wouldn't be a deterrent," he said.
Webster commented that the two-year term acts as a safety to "protect the people of the town."
As discussion progressed, it became clear that the board was unsure about the change.
"I'm not hearing much consensus on this one," observed Smith.
"In this particular situation, I think we need to hear from the people," said Daniels. "I think the jury's still out on that one."
Another proposed change would remove references to salaries paid to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
The charter currently states:
"the Mayor of the Municipality shall receive as a salary the sum of $200.00 per month, and each Alderman shall receive as salary the sum of $100.00 per month, provided however, that this section shall not become effective until July 1, 1956."
The proposed change would strike that section and add: "that the salaries of the Aldermen and the Mayor shall be fixed by ordinance approved by a majority of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen."
Smith proposed the change, saying it should naturally be part of the budget process.
Having anyone's salary set in the charter "means they're difficult to change," he said, noting that budget concerns in the future may necessitate changes.
Smith suggested setting salaries by ordinance, which would require a public hearing and two readings by the board.
"Forget the amount," said Bryan, favoring the suggestion. "Just the fact that it's actually part of the budget process and out of the charter makes sense."
"We know, if there's anything in the charter, it takes forever to get it changed," Webster said.
It was noted, however, that the change is not being proposed for the purpose of enacting a pay raise.
Smith commented, "I'm going to say this from the Adminstrator's perspective -- I'm a little embarrassed how little we pay you as our elected officials," he said.
"Our pay doesn't reflect the amount of work that you do," he added.
"I appreciate you saying that," said Daniels, "but we all knew that going in. That's not what we're here for."
REMOVE PER CAPITA RESTRICTIONS
The final change discussed was a proposal to remove restrictions on the number of police officers the Town may hire.
Currently, the charter states: "provided, there shall not be more than one policeman to every three hundred inhabitants"
The proposal would remove that language, thereby giving the board flexibility to make decisions on the number of police officers based on the Town's needs.
During brief discussion on the topic it was illustrated that, currently, Greeneville is within the requirement but very close to approaching the limit.
Hiring as few as four more officers -- school resource officers, for example -- would put the Greeneville over the limit.
Consensus on the board was that the requirement should be removed.
Discussion centered around the need for future boards to be aware of budgetary concerns if no limit is made on hiring.
The process of changing the charter has been "like an experiment in local democracy," Smith said.
The proposed changes, he said, are "just some concepts I'm glad we're talking about. We're getting it out in the public."
Decisions on how to proceed going forward will be up to the mayor and the board.
Daniels says he hopes discussions and further study into the changes will continue.
"I would hope that every alderman will go one-on-one with Todd [Smith] and talk about the changes and try to come to some kind of consensus before we put it in a form we can vote on," he said.
Changes to the Town's charter can only be enacted after a vote of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen approving the change, approval by the state legislature, receiving the governor's signature, and a final vote of acceptance from the board.
The board hopes to have proposed revisions, if any, agreed upon by the end of the year, in time to submit to the state legislature for consideration during the 2014 legislative session.