County Commission to review appointment process

Published 9:23 am Saturday, November 15, 2014

A special team is beginning a project to research and review the process used by the County Commission to select members for its internal standing committees after the state raised questions on the legality of the current method.
The way the commission chooses committee members came under scrutiny earlier this year when County Mayor Leon Humphrey received a letter from the Tennessee Office of Open Records Counsel that said the county may have violated state open meetings laws, also known as the Sunshine Law, in making committee appointments during its September meeting.
Prior to taking office Sept. 1, 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. At the Sept. 15 commission meeting, members voted to approve the committee appointments the three members of each district had chosen.
During the Sept. 15 meeting, Commissioner Nancy Brown questioned her removal from the Budget Committee by the other two representatives from the 2nd District — Mike Hill and Al Meehan. The commission meeting was placed in recess in order to allow Brown, Hill and Meehan to meet privately to discuss appointments from their district.
After receiving the letter from the state, Humphrey said he met with County Attorney Joshua Hardin and determined that the commission needed to call a special meeting to revisit the committee appointments and cure any possible open meetings violations that may have occurred before or during the Sept. 15 meeting.
During the special called meeting Sept. 29, several commissioners brought up the private meetings held to discuss the committee appointments. Dome said these private discussions had taken place in Murfreesboro, where several commissioners attended a training seminar.
Because the commission’s rules and bylaws state the district representatives should decide the committee appointments among themselves, Humphrey recommended the commission review the committee appointment process to make sure it complies with state law.
On Thursday, members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee discussed the current method and the issues brought up regarding the process.
“It did cause us quite a fuss this last time,” committee Chairman Randall Jenkins said.
Fellow committee member Meehan replied, “Because some people wanted to cause a fuss because they weren’t happy with the outcome.”
“The three people meeting together privately was obviously a Sunshine violation,” Jenkins responded.
Commissioner Ronnie Trivett, who was filling in on the committee for an absent Beth Depew, asked Hardin his opinion.
“When three get together in private, that’s a violation right?” Trivett asked, and Hardin responded that it was a violation of state law.
Appointments to the commission’s standing committees are “internal matters” and not public business. Meehan said. Hardin disagreed, saying that because the committees have an impact on county business, it can be argued that the appointments themselves are county business, and as such “must be conducted in an open forum in a properly advertised meeting.”
Because the commission’s rules and bylaws were adopted in 2002, committee member Isaiah Grindstaff suggested all the rules and bylaws be reviewed because legal statutes and laws change over the years.
He further suggested a small group be appointed to research the committee appointments issue with the county attorney, with other counties and with the County Technical Assistance Service.
Grindstaff then made his suggestion in the form of a motion, which was seconded by committee member Ray Lyons. Meehan made an amendment to the motion to direct the team to also research and define the purpose and duty of each committee. The motion passed unanimously on a vote.
Jenkins then asked for volunteers to serve on the team, and it was decided the team would consist of Meehan, Grindstaff, committee member Cody McQueen and Jenkins.

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