BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The recent controversial county property tax increase by the Greene County Commission was enough to push a group of citizens to organize a rally on Saturday.
The group, calling themselves Citizens for Greene County Home Rule, spent nearly three hours in conversation about government spending, and what speakers said were public apathy and the need for change.
While the property tax increase was generally noted as the action that prompted the group's reaction, other issues included what speakers characterized as conflicts of interest (in which county commissioners are county government employees or closely related to government employees), and officials' term limits.
PK Lowery, who was instrumental in organizing the rally, explained his vision for change, which features a new, "home rule" form of government.
"Home rule is a provision in the Tennessee Constitution which allows citizens to create the framework of rules by which their county government must abide," according to information circulated by the group.
Lowery opened Saturday's rally by stating objections to what he described as the difference between "economic" individuals and "political" individuals.
He said that those who live economically are the ones on which the property tax was imposed, while those living politically are those who "want to make a living by taxing people."
He described this as governmental stealing.
"Home rule is our ability to allow our own constitution by which Greene County has to abide," he said.
Lowery noted that, should home rule be enacted, Greene County would be the only county in Tennessee operating under such a legal framework.
Currently, he said, all counties operate under state laws.
"The home rule process is a lengthy one," he cautioned on Saturday.
He reminded individuals present that the petitions made available were only just the beginning of the process.
There must be approximately 1,800 legally acceptable signatures on the petition before the process can move forward.
The next requirement would be the election of a charter commission of seven members, one from each County Commission district.
This commission would be responsible for drafting and presenting the new charter proposal, which would then go to referendum, Lowery explained.
The recommendations presented for such a charter included:
* "Citizens' approval of all tax increases";
* "Recall and term limits for elected officials"; and,
* "Elimination of conflict of interest."
Lowery also cautioned the crowd of 75 to 100 citizens that Giles County once tried to implement home rule, but when it went to referendum, "government employees and politicians went up in arms," calling supporters of the action Communists.
"They are the enemy," he said. "They will fight it."
"We have no guarantee that we'll be successful. All we can do is work," he later added.
Rally attendees next heard from Doug Brooks, who spoke about how the country is "Taxed Enough Already."
Brooks noted what he referred to as proposed tax increases at the federal level, including ObamaCare, a Medicare tax hike, and a surtax on investment incomes.
"All this is just to add to the taxes we already pay," he noted.
Brooks said he had always thought of local legislators as "one of us" -- a group that would not increase taxes during difficult economic times.
However, he and many other speakers noted that the property tax increase came after the county voted against a referendum to increase the wheel tax.
"The County Commission couldn't take no for an answer," he said.
Ronnie Lintz was the next to speak, stating his appreciation for citizens' support of his petition to have the county government rescind the property tax increase.
Lintz said that he is not typically one to speak out unless pushed too far -- and the property tax increase, he said, was too far.
He noted that everyone, not just property owners, will be affected by the increase through the impact on the local economy.
He urged those present to show up at more meetings, speak out, and move away from voting along party lines.
"It can be done. We can beat these folks," he said.
In addition,Wendy Hankins gave an impassioned speech about the role of citizens as "We, the People."
"We the people. I want you to live that, and I want you to believe that when you leave this rally," she said.
Hankins stated her belief that citizens do not participate more in Greeneville and Greene County's governments out of fear of reprisals.
She said that such a situation is not liberty, but tyranny.
Hankins concluded with a poem, titled "We the People," which included the line:
"We the People are here to stay. You work for us. It's not the other way."
STECK, BARWICK & MCINTYRE
Kermit Steck, candidate for U.S. Senate, was among the members of the crowd to take the microphone on Saturday.
Steck noted declining numbers of property-owners and the advanced age of most of those present at the rally.
In response, Steck called for those present to reach out more to others, motivating them to participation.
"It's going to cost us to do what's right," he said. "We need to accept the fact that it's going to cost us to do what's right. It's not free. It's expensive."
Frank Barwick similarly called on people to participate more in local politics, saying that the power should not be at the federal level, but at the state and local level.
Don McIntrye pointed to what he said is an abuse of funds at the federal level as well.
He looked to the Federal Reserve as a major source of the problem, saying it is a ploy by the British monarchy.
COPELIN AND SEXTON
Marty Copelin and Judith Sexton, both frequent speakers during the local governmental meetings, also stated their objections to the property tax increase and the general behavior of local government.
Copelin argued that the County Commission treats citizens as "cows to be milked," and noted the debt that the county has incurred.
Sexton pointed to what she described as the "mismanagement" and "squandering" of funds as what she said is the true source of the budget problem.
She expressed opposition to additional spending at the local airport, in the school system, and for a proposed new jail.
"Our movement is much bigger than just taxes," Copelin said. "It's about we the people being in charge again."