BY KEN LITTLE
Get involved or suffer the consequences.
That was the primary message conveyed Saturday by members of the Greene County Taxpayers group during a public meeting held at Gina's Family Restaurant.
The taxpayers group supports the "home rule" form of government, which would allow Greene County citizens to create a set of rules outlining how county government would operate, rather than abiding by rules created by the state.
Petitions currently being circulated in Greene County by the group call for the election of a seven-member Charter Commission in May 2014 that would write a county charter.
Citizens would vote on approval of the charter in a subsequent election.
TERM LIMITS, TAX VOTE
The Greene County Taxpayers group sees home rule as a way to rein in local government and address issues such as term limits for elected officials, conflicts of interest, and new or increased property taxes, which would have to be approved by popular vote.
Greeneville lawyer Jeff Cobble was the featured speaker Saturday. About 20 people attended. Cobble told those at the meeting not to be discouraged by the relatively low turnout.
"I am tired of looking around and (people) saying, 'Nobody else is leading.' It's time for you to lead," he said.
He referred to the nation's Founding Fathers, and the challenges they encountered.
time somebody stepped up to the plate," Cobble said. "We need to recapture the wisdom of
Cobble is an advocate of "self-government."
"If you want system change, quit expecting somebody else to do it. Do it yourself," he said.
Greene County Taxpayers member PK Lowrey earlier said that about 1,500 Greene County residents have signed the petition.
A total of 1,800 legally-verifiable registered voters must sign in order for the petition to be certified and placed on a county referendum ballot.
At a rally in October 2012 sponsored by "Citizens for Greene County Home Rule," literature was presented explaining that "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."
Currently, Lowrey said at that rally, almost all counties operate under state laws.
"The home rule process is a lengthy one," he cautioned in 2012.
He reminded individuals present that the petitions were only just the beginning of the process.
The next requirement would be the election of the charter commission of seven members, one from each County Commission district.
This commission would be responsible for drafting and presenting a new charter proposal, which would then go to referendum.
'TIME TO STEP UP'
"It's time for us to step up and do what we need to do," Cobble said Saturday. "If we get the 1,800 signatures, then we need to get the right people to run for the charter commission."
Knox and Shelby counties operate under a home rule system, as do the consolidated government counties of Davidson, Moore and Trousdale, Lowrey said. Lincoln County will vote on a newly-written charter in August 2014.
Fourteen cities in Tennessee, including Johnson City and Oak Ridge, also have home rule, Lowrey said.
"It's giving us a chance to write in our own rules and pull us out from the standard rules," Lowrey said. "What we've been trying to do is get people to sign the home rule petition. We've been out going door-to-door."
Cobble suggested that asking members of the group to speak to their fellow church members is one way to get the word out. Each person at the meeting is capable of getting 20 more signatures, he said.
If the home-rule petition drive is successful, "the right people" must be elected to the Charter Commission, Cobble said.
"Our goal is to elect the kind of people who have character and integrity and protect the other guy," he said.
It's time to stop depending on handouts from federal and state government, Cobble said.
"We can, within the confines of the Constitution, make our own rules," he said. "It's time for us to start finding our own solutions to things."
For more information about the petition drive, please go to http://www.greenecountyhomerule.com
Also speaking at the meeting was Don McIntyre, who is opposed to the construction of a new Greene County jail.
Taxpayers can't afford the projected cost of $40 million, McIntyre said.
"Our county is in poor financial condition, added to an already large debt load," he said.
A jail should not be built until a capital budget report is prepared that examines potential expenses attached to a new detention facility, McIntyre said.
He said the expense of a new jail "will be passed on to the taxpayer in property taxes."
McIntyre also stated that federal prisoners should not be housed in the Greene County Detention Center.
"Let counties who can better afford it keep federal prisoners in jail," he said.
McIntyre cited the recent 11.1 percent unemployment rate for Greene County.
"I believe it's not worth the financial gamble of taking on a huge payment schedule for a new jail," he said.
"We simply can't afford this."