County plans committee do-over

Published 9:41 am Monday, September 22, 2014

Members of the Carter County Commission will meet in a special called session Sept. 29 to rectify open meetings violations stemming from the way the commission made committee appointments.
Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey said a special meeting is being called in response to a letter he received this week from attorney Elisha Hodge with the Office of Open Records Counsel. The letter informed Humphrey a complaint had been filed regarding alleged open meetings violations by the Carter County Commission.
The letter Humphrey received followed an inquiry filed by the Elizabethton Star with the Office of Open Records Counsel, asking if the process used by the commission to determine committee appointments violated state law that requires elected officials to conduct business in a public forum.
Members of the commission received a letter from the previous commission chairman, Tom “Yogi” Bowers, directing the three representatives of each district to decide among themselves which representative would serve on each of the committees.
Also, during Monday’s commission meeting, Commissioner Sonja Culler called a five-minute recess to the public meeting to allow the three representatives from District 2 – Nancy Brown, Mike Hill and Al Meehan – to privately discuss the committee appointments from their district.
“Based solely upon the information that has been provided to this office, it appears as though open meetings violations may have occurred,” Hodge said in the letter, adding she “strongly” suggested Humphrey confer with the county attorney regarding the alleged violations.
Following Hodge’s advice, Humphrey said he met with County Attorney Joshua Hardin on Friday morning and it was determined the commission needed to hold a special called meeting.
Humphrey said the purpose of the meeting is for “reconsideration and discussion” on the committee appointments approved by the Commission during its monthly meeting on Sept. 15.
Humphrey said based on the communication from Hodge, violations had occurred, but added “We are going to remedy this.”
According to Humphrey, the special called meeting on Sept. 29 will feature open discussion between the members of the districts relating to the committee appointments. He said the three members of each district will be asked to vote on the appointments and if no clear majority is reached the appointment for that district will come to a vote by the full commission.
“All of this will be done in a public forum,” Humphrey said.
Also as a result of the letter Humphrey received, two committee meetings which had already been scheduled have been canceled – a meeting of the Nominating Committee set for Monday and a meeting of the Highway Committee scheduled for Tuesday.
Humphrey said because the legality of the committee appointments had been called into question, no committees could meet until the situation was corrected by the full commission.
Humphrey said the need to revisit the committee appointments has put the county in a sort of holding pattern. “
Really we can’t conduct any business until these committees are in place,” he said. “I hate we got off to such a rocky start, but we are going to remedy this.”

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