Request For Revisions
To Town Charter Now
Goes To Legislature
BY SARAH R. GREGORY
The Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen has voted to submit proposed changes to the Town's charter to the Tennessee General Assembly -- with the exception of a proposal to extend board members' terms of office from two years to four.
The action was a significant step that followed discussions about the proposed revisions that have taken place since early this year.
Throughout a series of public workshops, board retreats, and discussions during regular meetings, consensus appeared to have formed on a number of the proposals.
However, votes regarding the matter Tuesday afternoon were not unanimous.
Two resolutions -- one dealing with the majority of changes to the charter, and another pertaining specifically to changes in the charter regarding the Civil Service system -- were up for consideration.
Both passed on 3-to-1 votes.
The first resolution on charter changes included all of the proposed charter revisions except the one affecting the town's civil service system.
Alderman Darrell Bryan moved for adoption of the first resolution, with the stipulation that the proposal for changing to four-year terms of office be removed. Alderman Keith Paxton seconded the motion.
Bryan, Paxton and Alderman Sarah E.T. Webster voted in favor, while Alderman Buddy Hawk voted against the motion.
The second resolution, pertaining to Civil Service-related changes, passed with Bryan, Webster, and Hawk voting in favor, and Paxton voting against.
Bryan made the motion to approve, with Webster seconding.
Mayor W.T. Daniels did not vote on either matter, since the mayor only votes in the case of a tie.
A number of the changes remove antiquated language or are, essentially, housekeeping measures to further recognize the role of the city administrator as the town's manager.
Many others are more significant.
With a proposal to lengthen the board's terms of office from two years to four having been removed, the remaining changes that will be submitted to the state legislature for consideration would:
* move the municipal election from June to August to coincide with the county general election;
* set redistricting requirements in an effort to have equal populations represented in Greeneville's two wards;
* remove the Recorder's Office staff and the chiefs and assistant chiefs of the police and fire departments from the Greeneville Civil Service system, with the current staff of the Recorder's Office "grandfathered in";
* remove a cap that based the number of police officers Greeneville may hire on population;
* remove the board's salary amount from the charter and instead make the salaries part of the regular town budget process;
* allow ordinances to be published on Greeneville's website in addition to in a newspaper of general circulation;
* remove antiquated language that refers to "Sabbath-breaking";
* remove restrictive language to allow Greeneville to support pageants and other festivities; and,
* remove Justice of the Peace and City Judge responsibilities from the Mayor and Recorder.
Discussion about the changes was brief.
The board discussed and voted on both resolutions in less than 10 minutes.
The resolutions pertaining to the changes were the final two items of business on the board's agenda, and, immediately upon arriving at them, Bryan made his motion to adopt all aspects of the proposed changes except the change to the terms of office.
Paxton seconded the motion, and discussion began.
BRYAN CITES MISTRUST
"I think we've had the discussion [about the proposed charter changes], but before our last meeting, I'd had few calls," Bryan said.
However, he continued, "since our last meeting, I've had numerous calls.
"People have stopped me in various places, and every single person has requested that we stay with two-year terms," he said.
Bryan expressed concern about the public's perception of changing to four-year terms.
"There's a lot of mistrust in government right now," he said.
"I think that we've made a lot of changes that have been very positive for our town, but I'm not sure that the timing is good to change terms right now," Bryan said, adding, "It looks like we're doing something for ourselves."
In recent weeks, he said, input to him about the change to four-year terms has been "more substantial than anything else" he's been involved with in his 10 years in public office.
WEBSTER ON TRENDS
Webster said she was contacted by very few people about the proposed change from two-year terms to four-year terms.
"I had very few people comment that they wanted two-year terms," she said, adding, "in fact, I can count them on one hand. On one finger."
She said after the meeting that significantly more people who contacted her had favored four-year terms.
She also cited the trend of other Tennessee communities of comparable size to utilize a four-year term.
"I would like to point out, in checking with MTAS [the University of Tennessee's Municipal Technical Advisory Service], other communities in Tennessee -- there are 29 communities fitting between 10,000 and 25,000 [population]," she said.
Of those communities, she continued, "they all have four-year terms with the exception of Tullahoma, which has a three-year term, and Greeneville, with a two-year term."
Similar to Greeneville, she added, is the fact that, "most of those other communities are private-act-chartered communities," which she considered "an interesting thing to look at across the state."
PAXTON SUGGESTS REFERENDUM
Paxton indicated that he would favor a voter referendum if the board wanted to continue considering lengthening terms of office.
"I read some articles in the paper and some people had called [me] saying that the term limits should be put on a referendum to let the people decide," Paxton said.
"If we wanted to change to a four-year [term], we could put it up for a referendum and see what the people want," he suggested.
"A lot of the changes seem needed in this charter change, but it seems like the one that a lot of people that have called in [about] has been the term limits," he concluded.
Hawk, like Webster, indicated that he had not been approached by many citizens with input about the changes.
"Most of the folks that I had to contact me or talk to me -- I use the word 'less than enthusiastic,'" he said.
"There wasn't a lot of participation," he concluded.
Mayor Daniels responded, saying, "We always wonder why people don't participate more," to which Hawk replied, "That's the problem."
The mayor said that perhaps the lack of input from citizens is an indication that people are satisfied with action the board has taken.
"Maybe people are happy with what we're doing," he said.
'FISH OR CUT BAIT'
As discussions continued, Daniels indicated that he felt it was simply time to act on the matter after months of discussions and considerations.
"The thing we were trying to do is basically get both wards involved in the election every two years, and really, when you look at it and try to stagger it, it's either got to be a one-year term or a four-year term. It's just the way it evens out; it's kind of hard for me to explain," he said.
"But," he said, "I think Darrell's point is well-taken."
"We've been talking about this now for two years -- longer than that, really.
"I think it's time to fish or cut bait, and frankly, I'm tired of cutting bait. I'd like to put a line in the water," he concluded.
As discussion continued, Bryan indicated that he hoped to build consensus to send any proposed revisions to the charter to Nashville with the support of the full board.
"We're talking about charter changes, and we're talking about going to the State Assembly," Bryan said.
"We may not agree here, but I think it behooves us to be unanimous if at all possible," he said.
"I'm not sure that we're representing our citizens in the best way possible if we can't find some way to be unanimous with this. That's my opinion," he said.
GET EVERYONE INVOLVED
Webster questioned if the board could find a way to get one alderman from each of the town's two wards on the ballot during each election without changing to four-year terms.
"If we stay with two-year terms, will we consider again -- like we had hoped to do -- to get everyone in the community involved in every election. To have, every two years, one [alderman] in the First Ward and one [alderman] in the Second Ward [on the ballot]?" she asked.
"That's certainly something to consider," Daniels replied, adding, "If we stay with the two-year term and we move the election to August, we're going to have more interest because we're going to tag along with the [Greene] County [general election]."
In addition to -- hopefully -- increasing voter turnout, the move to an August election would also be a financial benefit, Daniels said, noting that Greeneville would only be responsible for paying to hold an election every two years as opposed to every year, since the Greene County government pays to keep precincts open during August general elections.
"We're going to get some relief there," he said.
The effect that changing municipal elections to accommodate four-year terms, elected in August, would have on other boards -- namely the Greeneville City Board of Education and the Greeneville Water Commission -- was also discussed.
"We need to see how all of that falls in line," Bryan said, noting that the topic was recently discussed during the Greeneville Board of Education's fall retreat and appeared to be of concern to members of the school board.
City Administrator Todd Smith explained that the state legislature would be responsible for extending school board members' terms to fit a changed election cycle.
Because Greeneville is a private act town, as established by the charter, Smith said, "for a school board member, if it was four years and two months, to get us to [an] August [election], the state legislature could do that."
AN INVOLVED PROCESS
As discussions came to a close, Daniels noted that Tuesday's action would not be the final action on the matter.
The process, he said, is "quite involved."
The two resolutions passed by the board Tuesday are expected to be carried to Nashville by state Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville, and state Sen. Steve Southerland, R-1st, of Morristown.
The first step, Daniels said, is that they [the changes] will go through their legal department to make sure that everything is constitutional and that there's no discrimination. Then it goes to the state legislature, it comes back, we vote on it the second time, and that's the process."
The matter, he added, "does take two readings," with the first being Tuesday's action.
"When it comes back, we vote on it the second time, which is the second reading," he said.
"This is where the urgency was in getting this done," Hawk said, referring to the approaching start to the 2014 legislative session in January.
"That's true, because January will be here before you know it," Daniels said.
How long it will take for the changes to go through the Tennessee General Assembly and to Gov. Bill Haslam for a signature -- and when the second reading of the resolutions could be held locally -- has not been detailed, but would likely not come until spring 2014.
Changes cannot go into effect until they are approved by the state's governing bodies and passed on a final reading by the Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen.