County mayor talks charter government

Published 11:18 am Sunday, May 5, 2019

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The general election held last August netted more than a few new faces in Claiborne government. It also saw the institution of a commission to work out the nuts and bolts of the proposal leading to the creation of a charter form of government.

The charter commission is in its last stages of preparing the document that will ultimately come before the general public for adoption via the ballot box.

Claiborne County Mayor Joe Brooks sat down with the Claiborne Progress to discuss the issue, as it currently stands.

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“I’ve always said the best thing about the charter is, it’s the last true form of democracy. Under a charter form of government, every person has the ultimate say on how our county is going to rule within the parameters of the charter. Once adopted, the only way it would be changed is through the ballot box,” said Brooks.

He said the charter proposal will more than likely include the reduction of county commissioners by 10 individuals.

“There would be one person representing each of the nine districts and two ‘at-large’ seats, which would mean an election to fill each of those seats. Anyone who is a county resident and who is registered to run for an office will be eligible to run for those two seats,” said Brooks.

As the proposal currently stands, there will be term limits for county commissioners, the county mayor and sheriff. If adopted as written, term limits would allow for two four-year terms – or a maximum of eight years – within a 12-year time period.

The elected official would then be eligible to run again, after taking a term off, he said.

“There have been conversations about including all elected officials,” said Brooks.

However, this has not yet been included in the proposal.

Brooks says the “good thing” that is coming from the proposed charter is the addition of two seats on the Claiborne School Board.

“They are going to ‘unblend’ two districts that were combined, back in the day, and are going to rework that so that, if you have a county commissioner in your district, you will also have a school board member,” said Brooks.

Under the proposal, those residents living in Clairfield would have direct representation in the school system by someone who actually lives in the secluded community.

“It’s hard to guarantee you’ll have representation – someone who will listen to your concerns. That will give them a voice they’ve not had in some time,” said Brooks.

The proposal includes a spending cap on county projects, excluding any that could be considered of an emergency nature. The cap has not yet been determined other than it will reflect a certain percentage of the total county budget.

“If the project total goes over that set cap, it would be considered a capital project and be brought before the county residents for discussion,” said Brooks.

If adopted, the charter document would eliminate all private acts, allowing county legislation to mirror statutes found in the Tennessee Codes Annotated.

Tennessee has only two counties that work under a “freestanding” form of government – Knox and Shelby counties. However, nearly every municipality within the state is considered a charter city.

“Evidence of that would be, when they have a referendum to have a few more beer or alcohol sales, they are amending their city charters by having that vote – much like Tazewell and New Tazewell have done. It gives them the legal right to have their residents participate in their decision-making process,” said Brooks.

The charter commission is winding down its process, with just a couple more meetings to hash out the fine points and ensure all the “Ts” are crossed and the “Is” are dotted. Brooks estimates the document will be completed by the end of May.

A notice will be published giving each resident the ability to read the document, in its entirety.