Letter concerning Home Rule Charter sparks response
Published 9:07 am Friday, July 24, 2020
(Editor’s note: In the pursuit of fairness, the Claiborne Progress is reprinting the original letter to the editor that appeared in the July 22 edition along with the response letter submitted to the paper. We realize the proposed Charter form of government is a hot topic. Voters will decide whether to adopt the form on Aug. 6 via referendum vote during the general election.)
Original Woodward Letter to the Editor:
For a long time, I have heard comments about bringing a Charter Government for consideration in to govern Claiborne county. It is strange in that I have heard no discussion as to why our current form of government is obsolete and no more useful. But you have provided copies of the Charter Government for consideration. You are deserving of a thank you for having done so.
After having read through my copy of the Charter, I found a lot of good work. However, I have found some proposals that shocked me and moved me to write this letter, expressing some examples that must be changed. Any voting to approve must be delayed until these changes are incorporated into the Charter. Without this action to change, I will be forced to vote against the Charter for Claiborne County.
No one man should have the power that is being given to the future Mayor under the new Charter. This is my first example. All power corrupts.
Article IV “Executive Branch – This article gives the mayor veto power over the budget. In effect, it gives the mayor authority either directly or indirectly with finality control every citizen in the county. There are no recourses to challenge the mayor on any financial decision made by a mayor. This is not right! This gives the mayor more power than the President of the USA. Accountability may be in Tennessee laws, but in this charter, it is not even mentioned.
There should be a balance of power between the Mayor and the County Commissioners. Under Section 3:07 Titled Mayor Signature and Veto, paragraphs A, B & C gives a good example of Veto power that is adaptable for the County Commissioners to deal with the Charter Mayor. The Charter must include Veto power to the board of commissioners. As previously stated, total power corrupts. We need accountability.
The intent of Article II, Section 2.06 was pure and with good cause. However, a little bit over board. For example, VA workers should be excluded because they work for a selected group of people who is recognized by the federal government.
Article III, Section 2:08 Amendments to this Charter. This is a nightmare for the average person to attempt to make a change to this Charter. In fact, I believe an attorney would be required for the average person and others as well. The article is verbose. It appears to have been written so that the average person would never be able to get a change made for the Charter. This article is an example why these suggested changes must be incorporated prior to the voting to acceptance.
Article III – Legislative Branch, Section 305 – Meetings and Quorum. In the past, the County Commissioners have been very liberal in allowing local citizens to address the Board of Commissioners. I see no reason to change this practice. However, the charter, as written could be used to defeat political aims or individuals and should be changed for the benefit of all citizens.
Wade B. Woodward
Response to Woodward Letter by Jerry Ware:
I appreciate the thought and effort of Mr. Woodward in writing the letter, which was published in the July 22nd edition of the Claiborne Progress. It is very encouraging to know that people like Mr. Woodward are taking the time to read and understand the proposed Charter that will be on the August 6 ballot. I encourage all citizens to do so and if they have questions or concerns to contact their District Charter Commissioner for information. In his letter, Mr. Woodward listed five concerns that will keep him for voting in favor of the Charter. I would like to take a few words and address each of those concerns.
First, the proposed Charter does not provide any new powers or authorities to the County Mayor office that it does not have currently under the State of Tennessee Constitution or Tennessee State Law. A quick check of the Tennessee Code Annotated will show this to be true, including utilizing the titles of Chief Executive and Finance Officer as covered in T.C.A. 5-6-101, T.C.A. 5-6-107 and T.C.A. 5-6-108. The proposed Charter in no way provides for a one-man government. In fact, it will require both the County Mayor and the Board of County Commissioners to work more closely together than ever before to accomplish county goals.
Article IV does provide the County Mayor office veto power over the county budget, which is not new. The current County Mayor office has this same power now, based on T.C.A. 5-6-107(a). The county budget is currently passed as a resolution. The current office of County Mayor has the power to veto any and all resolutions passed by the County Commission. Currently, and in the proposed Charter, the County Commission has the power to override the County Mayor’s veto and enact the budget or resolution over the Mayor’s objections. This is the checks and balances system that is utilized by most county governments within the state of Tennessee, the Tennessee State Government and the Federal Government. To my knowledge, no current government form in our country allows for both the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch to have veto powers over each other. In this case, the Legislative Branch has the ability to pass ordinances and resolutions, which the Executive Branch has the power to veto, which then can be overridden by the Legislative Branch. The proposed Charter does not change or alter this system of checks and balances in any manner.
I believe Mr. Woodward’s interpretation of Article II, section 2.06, may or may not be correct. The intent of the Article is not to prevent citizens from working for the government but to prevent elected officials from holding multiple elected compensated positions within municipal, county, state and federal governments at the same time. If the wording is confusing, I suggest it be reviewed and amended after passage of the Charter by a vote of the people of the county. We will have two years to correct before the proposed Charter takes effect in 2024.
I agree, Article III, section 2.08 is a bit on the long-winded side but was necessary to meet all of the requirements put forth by the state code. In laymen terms, there are four methods available to amend the Charter. First, the Board of County Commissioners may suggest an amendment to be placed on a referendum ballot by a two-thirds affirmative vote on the suggested amendment. Second, a citizen can ask the Board of County Commissioners to request an amendment through their ability to suggest amendments as previously mentioned above. Third, a citizen may suggest an amendment to the Charter Review Committee, who in turn will provide it to the Board of County Commissioners. Fourth, a citizen may have an amendment placed on the referendum ballot by petition. To do this, they file their completed petition with the County Election Commission, bypassing both the Board of Commissioners and the Charter Review Committee and going directly to the voters. The first three options only require communication with either the Board of County Commissioners or the Charter Review Committee. The last option requires a little work by the petitioner, as the petition will need to be signed by 10% of the registered voters of the county. I do not believe an attorney is required in any of these processes.
Article III, section 3.05 (h) does not change anything as it concerns the ability of citizens to address the Commission during open session. I also agree, that for the most part, it is not a problem currently. What it does do is codify in the Charter, those rights of address by citizens, thus insuring they will not be infringed upon or terminated without a vote by the citizens of the county and not by the Board of Commissioners.
Finally, Mr. Woodward stated he does not believe the proposed Charter benefits all of the citizens of the county. I must disagree with his conclusion. Providing people the right of petition to block any and all ordinances and resolutions enacted by the Board of Commissioners, providing the right to petition for a recall vote on any elected county official, providing a method for the people to amend the county charter, and requiring equal representation for all civil districts on both the Board of County Commissioners and the School Board are examples of some of the new benefits the proposed Charter will provide to all of the citizens of the county. The most important benefit of all, the proposed Charter will allow the people of the county to actually have control of their county government and give them a very loud voice in deciding the future of Claiborne County.
Jerry A. Ware, Sr.