By Mary Ann Reeves
The Tennessee constitution and subsequent legislature lays the ground for changing the the government of a county (e.g. Anderson County) from its constitutional form to a charter form (also known as home rule).
To make this change in Anderson County three things must happen:
- A charter commission must be created. There are several ways that this is permissible but the one selected was by the petition of registered voters whose number must at least equal to 10 percent of the total number of votes cast in the county in the last governor’s race. In Anderson County, 17,760 votes were cast for governor; therefore 1,776 signatures were required (and obtained) on the petition.
- The election of the Charter Commission members. The election for the candidates must be held 75 days or more after the resolution becomes effective. The charter commissioners are elected from the same districts and in the same manner as the county commissioners. The cost of the election is paid out of county funds. In Anderson County, the Charter Commission election is concurrent with the general election (November 8) and Anderson County will incur no cost. The elected charter commissioners will set a budget and they may incur expenses for administrative costs up to a maximum of $50,000. These expenses will be paid by Anderson County.
- Voters must approve any changes in the form of Anderson county government recommended by the Anderson County charter commissioners. Anderson County voters must approve, via a referendum, any recommended changes by the charter commission. The referendum will be done concurrently with the August 2018 election to avoid additional costs to the county. This will be a “for” or “against” vote.
Any new charter adopted will abolish and replace the current Anderson County government. This gives the Anderson County charter commissioners broad authority to re-organize and overhaul the Anderson County government with the exception of the judiciary and school systems. Some of the statutory changes that can be made include:
- Size, method of election, qualifications for holding office, method of removal, and procedures (including term limits) of the county commissioners.
- Form of government, including separation of legislative and executive functions between the commissioners and mayor.
- Assignment of executive responsibilities to the elected mayor.
- Reorganization of administrative departments, agencies, boards, and commissions of the county government.
- Development of a civil service system, including employees’ retirement and pension systems.
- The duties of the constitutional officers may be transferred to another county office—as long as the duty is performed. The constitutional officers for all Tennessee counties are county executive, sheriff, trustee, register of deeds, county clerk, and assessor of property.
Since the general government of Anderson County can be opened for a complete overhaul, the charter commissioners studying any change have considerable influence on Anderson County governance for many years to come. The challenges that they face will include navigating the individual differences that members of the Charter Commission will have; becoming well versed in the Tennessee Constitution and statutory law that govern charter commissions; and weighing the pros and cons of the two current Tennessee counties that already have home rule governance.
Given this influence, voters should approve charter commissioners who are knowledgable, insightful, and cognizant of their enormous responsibilities.
The League of Women Voters is a non partisan organization. We do not support or oppose any candidate or political party.
A mission of the League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge is to provide the electorate information about candidates and elections. The upcoming election of candidates for the Anderson County Charter Commission has been puzzling to some. Hopefully, this article provided some clarification.
Mary Ann Reeves is president of the League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge.
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