Attorney advises against downsizing Commission at this time

Published 10:06 pm Friday, August 18, 2017

When members of the Carter County Commission consider a resolution to reduce their numbers on Monday, County Attorney Josh Hardin will be advising them not to pursue downsizing at this time.

Earlier this month, the county’s Rules and Bylaws Committee approved a measure to reduce the number of County Commissioners from 24 to 16. Currently, each of the county’s eight districts has three representatives on the Commission. Under the proposed change each district would have two.

During that committee meeting, Hardin advised the group against pursuing downsizing at this time based on state law and the potential for lawsuits to arise from downsizing outside of a reapportionment year.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Despite the advice of the county’s attorney, the Committee voted 7-1 to approve the measure and advance it to the full Commission. According to the draft minutes for the Committee meeting, those voting in favor of the move to downsize were Commissioners Tim Holdren, Nancy Brown, Ray Lyons, Bradley Johnson, Isaiah Grindstaff, Cody McQueen, and Randall Jenkins. Commissioner Willie Campbell cast the sole dissenting vote.

When the matter is presented to the full Commission on Monday, Hardin said he will once again advise against pursuing downsizing at this time.

“Everything that I have looked at and researched has tied the downsizing to the reapportionment and redistrict process,” Hardin said.

Reapportionment and redistricting are conducted in the county every 10 years based on the most recent census data, Hardin said.

The last reapportionment and redistricting in Carter County was conducted in 2011 following the 2010 census.

State law does allow a county to redistrict and reapportion between census cycles for the purpose of sustaining equal representation for the citizens based on population shifts.

“I don’t know that what they are proposing would count as sustaining equal representation,” Hardin said.

The proposed downsizing would change nothing with the district lines or the number of citizens included in a district, Hardin said. The proposal is simply to reduce the number of commissioners each district has to represent each district.

The next reapportionment and redistricting for Carter County will take place in 2021 using data collected during the 2020 census.

Hardin said he feels downsizing the Commission early could leave the county vulnerable to lawsuits. He said Washington County completed something similar recently, and they are currently facing litigation regarding that move. Hardin said the Washington County Commission was attempting to fix equal representation after a population shift and still face a lawsuit for changing the group’s structure outside of a reapportionment cycle.

Some questions regarding the legality of downsizing outside of a reapportionment year have arisen, and the county requested an opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General about a year ago trying to clear up those questions. As of this week, Hardin said the county has received no response to their request for an opinion.

“There is no black and white statute that says downsizing between apportionment is illegal,” Hardin said. “All I can say is, in my opinion, I think that is the intent of the statute. It is my opinion that we should wait for the reapportionment.”

The Carter County Commission will meet on Monday, August 21, at 6 p.m. in the courtroom on the second floor of the Carter County Courthouse.