No do-over of the do-over: Committee appointments take center stage again

Published 9:17 am Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Committee appointments were the dominant business of Monday’s meeting of the Carter County Commission as members once again revisited the body’s own standing committee appointments and debated placements to other committees.
Early in the meeting, as commissioners were reviewing the minutes of the special called meeting held Sept. 29, Commissioner Al Meehan, who was not in attendance at the Sept. 29 meeting, said the minutes contained “a breech of conduct and rules.”
Meehan, who represents the Second District, then questioned the appointment of fellow Commissioner Nancy Brown, also of the Second District, to the budget committee on a vote of 12-10 by the full commission. Meehan said state law required a majority vote of the total number of commissioners, not a majority of the commissioners present. There are 24 members of the County Commission with 13 votes required to obtain a majority vote.
The commission called the Sept. 29 meeting to address a letter from the Office of Open Records Counsel with the State Comptroller’s Office citing apparent open meetings violations.
During the Sept. 29 meeting, Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey, who serves as chairman of the commission, had each member of the body stand up, state their committee preference and list the reasons they felt qualified for that particular committee. The appointments were addressed one district at a time, with the three commissioners from each district voting on the appointment. If the three district representatives failed to come to a majority vote, the matter would be put to a vote by the full commission.
That circumstance arose only once during the meeting, when it came time for the Second District to vote on its appointments. Meehan was absent from that meeting, which left Brown and Commissioner Mike Hill to vote on the district’s appointments. Both Brown and Hill voted to place themselves on the Budget Committee and each other on the Highway Committee.
With a tie vote of 1-1 on both votes, the issue was brought to the full commission for a vote. On a split vote of 12-10, Brown was named to the Budget Committee. Hill was then placed on the Highway Committee and Meehan was placed on the Rules and Bylaws Committee. During the Sept. 15 regular meeting of the commission, committee appointments were approved which placed Hill on the Budget Committee, Brown on the Highway Committee and Meehan on the Rules and Bylaws Committee with a vote of 2-1 with Hill and Meehan in favor and Brown casting the dissenting vote.
After all the committee appointments were voted on by district, the commission as a whole voted 20-2 to confirm the appointments as decided by districts and the district two appointments as decided by the full commission.
During Monday night’s meeting, Meehan said placing Brown onto the budget committee with only 12 votes – not the 13 he said is required for the majority – violated state law.
Meehan said the commission also “knew the wishes of the Second District” regarding the committee appointments and did not honor those wishes. He also said the minutes of the special called meeting recorded “a bad vote” and could possibly open the county up for a possible lawsuit if someone challenged the committee appointments.
County Attorney Joshua Hardin weighed in on the question of legality and said while state law does require a majority vote, he felt the overall confirmation vote by the full commission of 20-2 met that standard.
“My opinion is that vote is what brought us into compliance with state law,” Hardin said.
When a motion was brought to the floor to approve the minutes of the special called meeting, it failed on a vote of 9-14 with commissioners Willie Campbell, Buford Peters, Jerry Proffitt, Hill, Meehan, Isaiah Grindstaff, L. C. Tester, Danny Ward, Ross Garland, Bobbie Gouge-Dietz, Timothy Holdren, Randall Jenkins, Larry Miller and Sonja Culler voting against approving the minutes.
After the failed motion, Lyons asked what a failure to approve the minutes would mean for the county.
“If the minutes aren’t approved there is no official record of the meeting, which is illegal,” Hardin said. “If you don’t have minutes you don’t have a record. It’s like the meeting didn’t happen.”
Humphrey said it was important to approve the minutes to document the special called meeting held in an attempt to remedy possible open meetings violations which occurred with the previous appointments.
“If you are voting just because something happened you didn’t like that needs to be amended,” Humphrey said.
Peters said he opposed approving the minutes because of the way the Second District appointments were handled. “I feel the Second District wasn’t treated the same as every other district,” he said. “I don’t think we respected the decision they had made. Plus, if it comes down as something illegal I don’t want my name attached with it.”
Hill, who said he felt as if he was at the center of the issue, pointed out that county business had already been delayed over the appointments issue. “I really don’t want to see a redo of the do over,” Hill said. “Can’t we all just move on?”
After the plea from Hill, and assurances from Hardin that he felt the commission’s actions during the Sept. 29 meeting were legal, the commission voted 19-3 to approve the minutes, with Gouge-Dietz, Jenkins and Culler voting against and Meehan abstaining.
Members of the commission also voted on appointments to the Planning Commission that were discussed during two meetings of the Nominating Committee earlier this month. The appointment process saw much debate in the committee, but ended with a recommendation to place Commissioners Jenkins, Lyons, Culler and Carroll on the Planning Commission as well as county resident Ken Arney. Those five members would join the existing members of the Planning Commission: Steve Pierce, Ralph Watson, Jerry Pearman, Jerry Smith, Mary Ann Patton and Jamie Hughes.
When the appointments were brought before the Commission for approval on Monday, Carroll said they should not be approved because they did not meet the requirements of the private act which created the Planning Commission. Carroll said he voted in favor of the appointments in the committee meeting “through ignorance,” but has since changed his mind.
Tester, who also serves on the Nominating Committee, said the county had spent a lot of time discussing the appointments already, including recommendations by Humphrey and Planning Director Chris Scheuttler.
“We’ve spent two meetings on this already, I’d like to see us move forward,” Tester said.
The appointments to the Planning Commission passed as recommended on a vote of 14-9 with Brown, Charles Von Cannon, Grindstaff, Ward, Holdren, Scott Simerly, Carroll, Robert Gobble and Cody McQueen casting opposing votes.
The commission also voted to appoint Ward and Culler to the Carter County Tomorrow Board. The recommendation from the Nominating Committee was for Ward and Simerly because there was question as to whether or not Culler’s term had expired and if she was eligible for another term.
Tom Anderson, director of CCT, was at Monday’s meeting and said while Culler’s term had expired she was eligible for reappointment.

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