Possible charter government for Claiborne

Published 2:07 pm Monday, January 8, 2018

Claiborne voters could be deciding whether the county will become a charter government, if enough ‘valid’ signatures are gathered to petition that the item be included on the August general election ballot.

County resident Joe Brooks, who is heading up the petition drive, says he is ‘optimistic’ that he will have the required 527 signatures to push the matter forward. It will depend, however, on whether those signatures come from residents who are certified registered voters.

Hedging his bets, Brooks continued his signature gathering through the end of December, ‘just in case.’

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Accountability, he says, is the number one reason he would like for Claiborne County to become a charter government.

“The charter, which would be approved by the individual voters, would set the parameters that the citizens want the government to operate within,” said Brooks.

The sole purpose for creating a charter committee is to draft the charter — the rules and regulations by which the county must abide.

Once a final draft is complete, the state would abolish the original charter committee.

One of the changes the committee could decide to make is the reduction in the number of county commissioners from the current 21 to, say, nine — one from each of the districts. They could decide to reduce commission salaries as well, to help balance the annual county budget.

The charter could do away with the Claiborne Finance Office in favor of bringing those duties back to the office of county mayor — saving dollars in salaries and operational costs in an effort to better balance the budget.

The charter committee would be made up of one resident from each of the nine county districts. The committee would have nine months in which to develop a charter. The document would then be published until the 2020 election.

At that time, the proposed charter would be voted on by referendum.

If 51 percent of the voters say ‘yes’ to the document, as written, it would become effective in 2022 — the next election cycle.

“A charter government would provide a smaller government, smaller budgets. It would actually allow for turnover of those seats, at a much quicker pace without term limits in place.

“It would allow for a turnover of fresh and new ideas in the county instead of a mindset that is decades old,” said Brooks.

Barring nepotism from the new form of government, he says, is something he would like to see included in the charter.

“I would like the charter to say ‘if you’re a county employee, you can’t run for public office. If your immediate family member is a county employee, you would be unable to run for county office.’ You’re not going to vote against those individuals’ livelihoods in a budget,” said Brooks, referring to nepotism in government.

Passage this August of the proposed charter form of government will not immediately affect the number or power of the county commissioners who currently sit on the Claiborne Commission.

According to Tennessee Codes Annotated §5-1-202, adoption of the charter will not cause the removal of any incumbent from county office, abridge the length of service or alter the salary prior to the end of his or her term.

Commissioner duties would remain the same until the end of each respective term.

The names of those sparring for a commissioner’s seat would appear on the 2018 ballot. The ballot would also include a line allowing voters to choose one person from their district to sit on the charter committee.

“My goal and intent of instituting a charter form of government is to reduce the size of county government. This is the same thing that Knox County has done, and it works beautifully for them,” said Brooks.

The position of charter committee member, open to any registered voter, is unsalaried and volunteer in nature. Those interested in throwing their hat into the ring would need to abide by the same rules as those wanting to run for any county office. The hopeful would need to gather signatures to petition for inclusion in the race, pay any required fees and follow the regulations set forth through the Election Commission Office.

For more information about the proposed charter form of government, contact Brooks at 423-626-5039 or 865-898-3592.