County Planning Commission debates resolution to reduce its size

Published 9:49 pm Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Following a debate that at times turned heated, members of the Carter County Planning Commission voted to forward a resolution reducing the size of the group to the county’s attorney for changes.

During Tuesday’s meeting of the Planning Commission, a resolution was presented to the board to reduce the size of the group from 12 members to nine.

“This resolution has been brought before several different committees of the Carter County Board of Commissioners and has been voted down,” said Planning Director Chris Schuettler. According to Schuettler, the proposal to reduce the size of the Planning Commission has been heard by the County Commission’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, the Carter County Financial Management Committee, and has been defeated three times in the Nominating Committee over the years.

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Carter County Attorney Josh Hardin drafted the current resolution following a request by County Commissioner Ronnie Trivette.

The Carter County Planning Commission was created in the 1970s by a private act approved by the Tennessee Legislature. Under the Private Act, the Planning Commission is to have between seven and 12 members with representation from of all of the county’s educational districts. When the Private Act was drafted, the county only had four educational districts, but since that time the Carter Board of Education has chosen to fall in line with the county’s eight legislative districts.

Currently, some of the county’s districts have more than one representative on the Planning Commission due to the structure of the group.

Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey, who has voiced his support for the proposed reduction in the past, told members of the Planning Commission on Tuesday that he believes the reduction is necessary to have equal representation for all citizens on the board.

“All of our subcommittees have eight members,” Humphrey said. “The only one that is different is the Planning Commission. It’s not equal representation.”

According to Humphrey, the reduction would also lead to a savings of $1,800 or more per year for the county by decreasing salaries paid for the Planning Commission meetings.

Humphrey made a motion for the Planning Commission to approve the resolution reducing the group from 12 members down to nine and then forward the resolution to the full County Commission for approval. Planning Commission member and County Commissioner Robert Carroll seconded the motion.

Not everyone on the Planning Commission agreed with Humphrey and Carroll regarding the proposal.

“I think we all know with the attitude you sat down with today this is nothing but a witch hunt,” Planning Commission member Ken Arney said. “This has been a witch hunt all along against the director.”

Humphrey took issue with the statement made by Arney.

“This is not a witch hunt,” Humphrey replied. “This is trying to do what’s right for the citizens of this county.”

Some members of the Planning Commission asked Humphrey if he was concerned with saving money why had he not attempted to reduce the size of the County Commission, which has 24 elected members. Humphrey replied that he and others are currently working on a proposal to decrease the size of the County Commission.

“We could drop from 24 to 16 without having to change a district line,” Humphrey said.

Planning Commission member and County Commissioner Randall Jenkins said the county’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, of which he is a member, is currently working to research the proper steps to take and legal issues to sort through in order to reduce the size of the Commission.

Schuettler, Planning Commission Chairman Jerry Pearman, and other members of the group expressed concern with how reducing the size of the Planning Commission could affect political sway in the group. Under state law, less than half of the body can be made up of elected officials.

“It was set up that way to keep politics out of the development of the state,” Schuettler said.

Currently, four members of the County Commission serve on the board along with the County Mayor due to his service as Chairman of the Commission. That places five elected officials on the Planning Commission.

Under the proposed resolution, the number of County Commissioners who can serve on the board would be “no more than four, “ and the Commission Chairman would also be on the Planning Commission. Under state law, the Commission may elect one of its members or the County Mayor to serve as chairman.

If the Planning Commission is reduced to nine members, Schuettler said the county faced the very real prospect of having five elected officials on the board which would constitute more than half of the group’s makeup.

When the matter came to a vote, the motion to approve the resolution failed on a tie vote of 5-5. Planning Commission members Humphrey, Carroll, Jenkins, County Commissioner Ray Lyons and Jerry Smith all voted for the resolution. Planning Commission members Arney, Watson, Steve Pierce, Pearman, and County Commissioner Sonja Culler all voted against the resolution.

Humphrey then made a motion to take another vote on the issue, which was seconded by Jenkins. Humphrey then made a change and instead moved for the Planning Commission to forward the resolution with a change noting that “no more than three” members of the County Commission could serve on the board. He said that change should quell any fears about the Planning Commission being dominated by elected officials.

“It’s not my intent to have control of this planning organization or any other organization,” Humphrey said.

Lyons then asked to make a friendly amendment to the motion and change the language to say “no more than two” members of the County Commission along with the chairman could serve on the Planning Commission. Both Humphrey and Jenkins accepted the amendment.

The Planning Commission then voted on sending the resolution back to the County Attorney to change the language to “no more than two” members of the County Commission plus the County Commission chairman.

The resolution then passed by a margin of 6-4. After the resolution is changed by the county attorney, it will once again be presented to the Planning Commission. Those voting in favor of the amended resolution were Humphrey, Carroll, Jenkins, Lyons, Smith, and Pearman. Those opposing the resolution as amended were Culler, Pierce, Watson, and Arney.