Vote that failed in February passes with new 12-vote majority

Published 12:40 am Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A proposal previously voted down by the Carter County Commission passed Monday after two vacancies to the governing body changed the number of votes required for approval. The successful vote followed heavy debate among the commissioners.

On Monday, members of the Commission voted 12-10 to buy an electronic voting system for during meetings. In February, the Commission voted 12-8 for the purchase.

While 12 votes was not enough to pass in February, it was enough to pass in March after Commissioners Jerry Proffitt and Beth Depew resigned.

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The Commission is a 24-seat governing body. Before the vacancies, the number of votes needed for a simple majority was 13. Because vacancies are treated differently than absences, County Attorney Josh Hardin said the Commission will be considered a 22-seat governing body until the open seats are filled.

“When there is a vacancy — and now we have two — those don’t count toward the total number,” Hardin said.

That means only 12 votes will be needed for a simple majority until the vacant commissioner slots are filled, he said.

After Monday’s vote, Commissioner Danny Ward questioned whether something that had been voted down could be brought up for a vote again without going back through the committee recommendation process.

Hardin replied that committee recommendations that fail can be brought up again unless the Commission votes to send it back to the committee.

The purchase of the electronic voting system was placed on the agenda at the request of several commissioners, said County Mayor Leon Humphrey, who serves as chairman of the Commission.

“I rise to object to consideration of this motion,” Commissioner Al Meehan said, adding that the Commission recently had developed a pattern of revisiting issues after they had previously failed. “I think it’s bad because it weakens and undermines democracy.”

Revisiting issues after they have failed also wastes time and money, Meehan said.

An objection to hearing the motion would require a two-thirds majority to pass, Humphrey said.

The objection failed to pass on a vote of 10-12.

Commissioner John Lewis made a motion to buy the system. Commissioner Nancy Brown seconded that motion. During debate on the motion, several commissioners spoke against the purchase.

While he supports the idea of the electronic system, Ward said he felt Humphrey was rushing the process and that commissioners had not been given adequate time to look into the purchase.

“We’ve only seen that one system,” Ward said to Humphrey. “I have asked you time and time again to bring us other systems. You’ve not given us an opportunity to see anything but what you want.”

Some felt buying the system would be a waste of taxpayer funds. The system would cost about $20,000, including the purchase of a laptop computer to run it and a printer to print the votes.

“Saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ is the finest thing I’ve ever seen,” Commissioner Willie Campbell said, adding he didn’t think the electronic voting system was necessary.

Citing the vacant seats, Commissioner Buford Peters said he felt the vote should be delayed until after those seats are filled.

“I feel we have two districts that are underrepresented,” he said. “I don’t feel that the taxpayers are properly represented here today.”

When the motion was put to a vote, it ultimately passed by 12-10. Commissioners Brown, Ronnie Trivett, Charles Von Cannon, Timothy Holdren, Randall Jenkins, Lewis, Larry “Doc” Miller, Ray Lyons, Scott Simerly, Robert Caroll, Robert Gobble and Cody McQueen voted in favor of the purchase. Commissioners Campbell, Peters, Mike Hill, Meehan, Isaiah Grindstaff, L.C. Tester, Ward, Ross Garland, Bobbie Gouge-Dietz and Sonja Culler opposed the purchase.

The vote during the March meeting ran pretty much in line with the votes cast during the February meeting. The only commissioner to change his vote was Garland, who supported the purchase in February but opposed it in March. Also, Meehan and Simerly were absent during the February meeting but were present to cast votes during the March meeting.

The $20,000 for the purchase of the system was allocated from various items within the building and grounds budget, which Humphrey said he could afford to move around during the current budget year.

Later in Monday’s meeting, the Commission approved a motion to allow the Carter County Election Commission to move into the building that used to house Carter County 911. Completing repairs to the building and moving the agency will cost $15,000 to $20,000, Humphrey said.

“We don’t have the money in the budget to get it done this year,” Humphrey said, adding that he hopes the money will be available once the county sets the 2015-16 budget.

While the commissioners supported the move for the Election Commission, at least one took issue with what Humphrey said about the funding for repairs.

“We’ve just spent $20,000 on something I felt we didn’t need, and now we don’t have $20,000 to spend on something we do need,” Peters said. “That money came out of your budget, and you said it was extra, but here is a need.”

Peters’ comment drew applause from some in the audience, as well as some on the commission floor.