The Charter Commission being elected on November 8 is a “big deal” for Anderson County, an attorney said this month.
“If you live here, you’re going to be affected by it,” said Joe Jarret. He is an attorney who has served two different charter county governments as law director-chief legal counsel, a University of Tennessee lecturer, and former chief legal counsel to the Knox County Charter Review Commission.
Jarret said there are three types of county government in Tennessee:
- the constitutional form, which is what Anderson County has now, with an elected county mayor (the administrative branch) and the 16-member Anderson County Commission (the legislative branch);
- a city-county consolidated government, such as the Metro Government of Nashville and Davidson County, with the city and county functioning as a single unit;
- a charter form of government like Knox County has had since 1990 and Shelby County has had since 1986. That home rule form of government has worked well from what he’s seen, and the governments have some autonomy and have operated without much fanfare, Jarret said.
The Tennessee Constitution allows for a charter form of government, and the Tennessee Supreme Court has recognized it, Jarret said.
“It has happened and legally so,” Jarret said.
A charter resolution creating a charter commission may be started through a petition drive that collects 10 percent of the number of total votes cast in the county for governor in the last gubernatorial election. That’s a very low threshold to change the form of government, Jarret said.
Those who gathered petition signatures in Anderson County acquired the 1,776 signatures necessary to call for a charter commission here, and they submitted them on July 1.
The successful petition drive means Anderson County will have a charter commission elected November 8, although it’s not clear yet who will be elected or what they might propose.
The charter commission is supposed to finish its work in nine months, and voters will get to say whether they approve or reject the proposed charter form of government in an election in November 2018. If changes are approved, they would become law in September 2019.
Among the changes that have been proposed during the campaign are requiring the county attorney to be elected rather than appointed; term limits, possibly two terms each for commissioners and the mayor; and reducing the number of county commissioners from 16 (two per district) to the state minimum of nine, with one per district and one at-large.
There have been other proposals discussed as well, including having commissioners elected in staggered four-year terms, with some elected in one even-numbered year and others elected in another even-numbered year; making the law director a part-time position; and appointing a county executive, rather than electing a mayor.
But none of the proposals are official yet. They can’t become official until the Charter Commission is elected in November. After that, the eight commissioners can propose, debate, and recommend changes.
Jarret said the Anderson County Charter Commission will draft a proposed charter and bring it to voters. It’s a very technical, labor-intensive process, Jarret said, and it should have great media scrutiny. Also, motivations should be clear, and there has to be due diligence, he said. Some of those proposing charters have good intentions, and some have a “dark side” or a motive, or are a “mouthpiece for a third party.”
Jarret said the charter is essentially a mini-constitution. It gives the county more power and authority than it has now. It eliminates the need to go the legislature on some issues. The county can pass local ordinances and resolutions without legislative approval and amendments, Jarret said.
The proposed changes must be consistent with state law.
Knox County and Shelby County are the only two models for county charter governments now. Anderson County is responsible for governing the unincorporated areas of Anderson County.
The charter would set the composition and powers of the legislative body, and it could set terms or term limits of members. It would assign executive responsibilities to the elected mayor or to an appointed county administrator appointed by and serving at the pleasure of either the mayor or legislative body, Jarret said.
There is some flexibility, he said, citing the charter form of government in Oak Ridge.
The Anderson County Commission has to appropriate at least $50,000 for the Charter Commission, but they can spend more, Jarret said.
The charter has to be drafted in nine months, but Anderson County Commission can extend that time, Jarret said.
Once the proposed charter is drafted, the current form of government stays in place if the proposed charter is rejected by voters. The charter should be clear and unambiguous, Jarret said.
He said the Charter Commission elected November 8 has to draft something. It would be the first charter for Anderson County.
Voters will elect one charter commissioner per district to the eight-member Charter Commission. Early voting began October 19 and ends November 3. The election is Tuesday, November 8.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
See a story on the Oak Ridge candidates for Charter Commission here.
You can follow our 2016 election coverage here. You can see the November 8 sample ballot, which includes Anderson County Charter Commission candidates, here. Early voting started October 19 and ends November 3.
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