Committee approves plan to downsize County Commission

Published 6:45 pm Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A proposal to downsize the Carter County Commission is making progress.

On Tuesday evening, members of the Commission’s Rules and Bylaws Committee approved a measure to lower the number of commissioners from 24 to 16 by a margin of 7-1, according to Committee Chairman Randall Jenkins.

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Jenkins said the Rules and Bylaws Committee has been discussing downsizing the County Commission for several months and it has been a project of his for some time. “As Chairman of Rules and Bylaws, this is something that has been on my agenda for three years,” Jenkins said.

Under the proposal approved by the Committee, each of the county’s eight districts would go from having three representatives on the Commission to having two representatives.

“It’s very simple what we’re doing,” Jenkins said. “We’re just taking one commissioner from each district.”

Under the proposal, Jenkins said the county would not have to undergo redistricting to reduce the size of the Commission.

“It’s nothing like what Washington County did where they moved lines and districts,” Jenkins said, adding that Washington County was sued following their redistricting and downsize.

The subject of potential lawsuits came up during Tuesday’s meeting, Jenkins said, adding County Attorney Josh Hardin advised against proceeding with the move to downsize noting the county could face a suit.

Jenkins said part of that caution was due to the county still awaiting an opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General regarding downsizing the Commission. The county requested that opinion in September 2016, Jenkins said.

“It’s almost to the point that if we waited any longer, we wouldn’t be able to do anything in time,” Jenkins said.

The idea, Jenkins said, is to get the downsizing approved before the deadline for the upcoming county elections in 2018. That way, the transition will be more seamless with citizens voting for two representatives for their district instead of three. Commission members would then be eliminated by attrition when their term is up.

Jenkins said the proposal to downsize the Commission will appear on the agenda for the group’s meeting on August 21. He said he had spoken with other members of the Commission who are not members of the Rules and Bylaws committee and while some oppose the idea, more seem to be in favor of the move.

“I feel real good about the vote,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said he has received a lot of positive feedback from the community as well.

“On the campaign trail and knocking on doors, about 90 percent of the people I talked to wanted this,” Jenkins said. “I guarantee if it had to go to a referendum it would pass.”

While the downsizing will help save the county approximately $400 a year in Commission salaries, Jenkins said saving money is not the main reason behind the push to downsize.

“The people have spoken, and this is what they want,” he said. “It is our responsibility to give it to them.”