BY LAUREN HENRY
The Town of Greeneville will not attempt to make amendments to its charter in 2013.
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen met Friday morning for a workshop to discuss possible revisions to the Town charter.
City Administrator Todd Smith presented a number of proposed changes that he said were intended to increase governing efficiency, address possible liabilities present in the current charter, and continue the Town of Greeneville's evolution into a city administrator form of government.
But the aldermen said they were not comfortable attempting to achieve any changes in time for the next session of the Tennessee General Assembly, which begins in January.
Any proposed amendments to the charter that were approved by the Board would have to be referred to the state legislature by January for legislative consideration.
Changes in the town charter require private legislation by the General Assembly since the charter was formally created by private act of the General Assembly.
"I don't think we have time to do it thoroughly," Alderman Sarah Webster said.
"I think out of fairness to everybody we need to take time for each part of it to ensure the people understand," Webster said.
"I think time should be involved for explanation for the voting public," she added.
Although a number of charter amendments have been proposed, primary discussion at the workshop focused on:
* proposed changes to the town's Civil Service system, and
* proposed changes in the town's governmental structure such as abolishing the Ward system and electing all aldermen at-large, increasing the terms of aldermen from two years to four, and moving the date of town elections to coordinate with county elections.
REASONS FOR PROPOSALS
Smith said his suggested revisions to the charter were a reflection of the strategic planning session the Town held earlier this year.
He also said there are some issues in the current charter that put the Town at risk of legal liability.
The charter conflicts with itself in parts, Smith said, noting that this issue is his main concern.
When the charter was amended earlier this year to provide for a city administrator form of government, some language remained from the previous charter which leaves ambiguity, he stated.
For example, he said, the charter gives the city administrator the power to hire and fire Civil Service employees and gives the Board of Mayor and Aldermen the same power.
The current ambiguity leaves the town potentially liable if an issue arises, according to Smith.
Also, the Town Mayor and the Town Recorder are listed as possible replacements for City Judge.
"I don't feel comfortable in a black robe," Mayor W.T. Daniels said.
He said the idea of the mayor's acting as judge scared him. The issue has never come up, but if it did, the town could be held liable, it was stated.
STUDY TO CONTINUE
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen agreed that there are issues in the current charter that need to be addressed.
They decided to continue to look at the issues and hopefully bring proposed amendments before the state legislature for its 2014 session.
Smith also suggested that the board present all proposed charter changes that the Board approves as one package rather than addressing a few changes each year.
He said, and City Attorney Ron Woods agreed, that presenting the state legislature with charter revisions year after year reflects badly on the town.
Even though no attempt to amend the charter is planned for 2013, the board did take the time at the workshop to discuss some of the proposed changes at length.
The charter revisions, as proposed, would remove the Recorder's office from the town's Civil Service system and would also remove police and fire chiefs and assistant chiefs from that system.
Greeneville Civil Service Board Chairman Ed Kershaw was allowed to address the board from the floor, and explained why he did not agree with the proposed change.
He also had submitted a letter to the board on Wednesday, Nov. 28, outlining the potential problems he foresaw with removing the Recorder's office and the police and fire officials from Civil Service protection. (Please see the text of the letter, this page.)
"Its hard to look at a group of friends and tell you not to give yourself too much power," Kershaw began his statement on Friday.
"You have to look at the reason I think Civil Service was created in 1953, and that's really to take a little bit of power from this organization," he said.
He said the purpose was to not allow a newly-voted board from arbitrarily making employee changes.
He stated that he believes the process of Civil Service has worked since its creation. If it is cumbersome, he said, it is because it is thorough.
Smith replied that the proposed change would remove the Recorder's office from civil service, but "grandfather" in existing employees so they could retain the benefits of being under Civil Service.
Smith explained that his reason for proposing removing the office from Civil Service is to allow greater hiring speed and flexibility.
CASE FOR CIVIL SERVICE
Town Recorder Carol Susong spoke in defense of retaining the Civil Service status of the Recorder and the staff of the Recorder's office.
"I found it very helpful to have a board [whose] allegiance was to no one," she said. "They are professional people, and they assisted me going through this process [of hiring two new employees to the Recorder's Office]," she said.
"My office considers it to be a big change to be removed from Civil Service protection," Susong added.
Smith said that very few governments in the state still have a Civil Service system. Those governments that have moved to a city administrator form of government have reduced Civil Service as a natural next step, he added.
Smith said the city administrator form of government naturally removes some of the politics that originally made Civil Service protections necessary.
Alderman Webster said she was pleased to hear discussion on the issue and called for more research.
She said she wants to know why so many other towns have abandoned Civil Service.
The board said it will resume discussion at a later time during a separate workshop.
"We're not here to disrupt anything. We are here to govern the best we can," Mayor Daniels said.
The board also discussed the possibility of making changes relating to elections and terms of office, with the hopes of increasing voter turnout and saving money by increasing the Aldermen's terms from two years to four and moving the election days to coincide with county elections.
There was some concern about the other proposed change to elections.
Webster said she is opposed to the idea of doing away with the Ward structure, another proposed charter amendment. Currently, the Town is split into two wards, with Church Street the dividing line.
Webster said the current structure ensures that the Town's representation is diverse.
REZONE CURRENT WARDS?
Smith had proposed that the Ward system be deleted from the charter and all Aldermen be voted in at-large. He said that the current Wards do not split up the town equally by geography.
Also, he would like to see all of the Aldermen represent all of Greeneville rather than represent a specific part of the town.
He said that Town Engineer and Public Works Director Brad Peters is currently working on determining the demographic split of the two wards to see if the population split is equal.
Smith suggested that, if the Ward system is retained, then the Town should look into rezoning the Wards.
7 DISTRICTS, AND ALDERMEN?
Alderman Keith Paxton brought up the suggestion of seven districts that coincide with the local school districts, with each of the seven districts electing an alderman.
He said he also thought the voting issue should be brought before the public for a popular vote.
Mayor Daniels said the Civil Service and election issues are serious matters and added that he hopes the public will participate in the upcoming continued discussions of charter revision.
Alderman Webster agreed that the issues will bring about much discussion, and echoed Daniels' hope that the public will participate.
"I think when we have these discussions, we need to have the pros and cons," she said.