Proposed Local Charter Will Then Be Submitted
To Voters In Referendum
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The Greene County Election Commission verified Monday the certification of nearly 2,000 signatures calling for the formation of a charter commission to write a proposed charter to create what is often referred to as "home rule" in the county.
Any qualified voter in Greene County is eligible for election to the charter commission, and may now pick up a nomination petition at the Greene County Election Commission Office, located on North Main Street.
The charter commission will consist of seven commissioners -- one from each County Commission District.
The election for the commission will be nonpartisan and will take place in conjunction with the May 6, 2014, County Primary Election.
The qualifying deadline to be on the ballot for the charter commission is noon, Feb. 20.
Tennessee law provides a procedure through which a unit of government, such as a county, may choose whether to operate under a charter drawn up and approved by its own citizens or, as it has always been done in Greene County, to operate under laws established by the Tennessee General Assembly.
The election of a charter commission to draw up a proposed local charter is the second step in the process of deciding whether the county will adopt its own charter.
A local charter would deal with various matters related to the structure of county government, including what county offices would exist, how long a term would be, what the powers and duties of each office would be, and rules affecting issues such as term limits, conflict-of-interest for officeholders, how property tax rates may be changed, etc.
State law (Tennessee Code Annotated § 5-1-206) details the following allowances and requirements for the commission once its members have been elected:
* members are to hold an organizational meeting at the Greene County Courthouse at 10 a.m. on the fifth weekday following the certification of their election;
* the commission shall elect a chair, chair pro tempore, secretary and any other officers deemed necessary;
* members are not to receive compensation for their services, other than reimbursement for actual expenses;
* the commission may employee staff to assist in drafting the charter, to be paid compensation as determined by the commission within the limit of funds available; and,
* all meetings must be open to the public.
The above-mentioned "limit of funds available" refers to a provision within state law requiring the County Commission to appropriate "sufficient funds to defray the expenses of such commission, which appropriation shall be not more than $50,000."
The charter commission must complete the formation of the charter by no later than nine months after its initial meeting.
David Pabst, a member of "Greene County Taxpayers," the group that gathered signatures for the petition, noted during Monday's meeting that the commission only serves to draft the proposed charter, and disbands once the charter formation is complete.
The charter then goes onto a referendum, for voters to either adopt it as the new structure for the county's government, or reject it in favor of the current form of government.
State law notes that "no right, power, duty, obligation or function of any officer, agency or office of such county shall be retained and continued unless this part or the charter of such county expressly so provides, or unless such retention and continuation be required by the Constitution of Tennessee.
"The adoption of a charter shall not have the effect of removing the incumbent from any county office or abridging the term or altering the salary prior to the end of the term for which such public officer was elected."
A charter also may not affect the judicial system other than in the levying of fees and court costs, and the procedure for filling vacancies.
Formation of a charter commission by petition requires a number of signatures from registered voters equal to at least 10 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.
According to Greene County Administrator of Elections Donna Burgner, the total number of votes cast in the Nov. 2, 2010, governor's race was 15,705.
Therefore, the total number required for the charter commission was 1,571.
The total number of certified signatures was 1,957.
The petition filed by members of the "Greene County Taxpayers" group was 305 pages long including all of the signatures.
Of the signatures included, some were repeated two, three or even four times, Burgner said. In these instances, only one signature was counted for the petition.
Another 174 signatures represented individuals who are not registered to vote, and another 94 have moved out of the County Commission District in which they registered to vote.
These conditions disqualified these signatures, but Burgner said she sent out letters to these individuals, asking them to register to vote or update their voter registration in time to vote in the May 6 election.
'GUNG HO' TO SIGN
Ron Davenport, a member of the Taxpayers group, helped gather signatures for the petition for more than a year.
Davenport was among a handful of members of the group who were present at Monday's meeting of the Election Commission.
Even those reluctant at first to sign became "gung ho" about doing so when the conversation turned to term limits, Davenport said.
"Most of them were aggravated about the property tax increase last year," Davenport added. "We hope the charter will simplify things -- make things more clear."