Committee takes a closer look at commissioner reduction

Published 8:19 pm Wednesday, October 20, 2021

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The Carter County Rules and Bylaws Committee continues to work on reevaluating the size and structure of the commission and its committees.

The reapportioning of districts is mandated by state law to occur every 10 years based upon the most recent federal census which occurred in 2020.  Pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 5-1-111(a), county legislative bodies are required to redistrict their county by January 1, 2022.

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And while district constituency numbers from the first workshop were polished and refined, the topic that took center stage was the reduction in the number of commissioners from its current number of 24 – three from each of the eight districts. 

“One of the goals and one of the things on the agenda items is that we discuss the reduction of county commissioners from 24 to a number yet to be determined and discussed,” Commissioner Isaiah Grindstaff said.

Options include what Grindstaff described as the easy route, reducing the number of commissioners from three to two in each district. However, he cautioned against settling on that plan. “I don’t think that we need to lock ourselves into two commissioners per district,” he said.

According to the Tennessee Comptrollers office guide, “county school boards and highway commissions are also subjected to the federal requirement of “one person, one vote”. Historically, these districts coincide or share the same boundaries as the county commission districts.

The commissioners discussed two options during the Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting this week, including creating 16 districts instead of the current eight districts, with one commissioner elected per district, as well as options for restructuring how and when the committees meet.

“You see how large that all these districts are in either population density or space like District 1, District 2, and District 6,” Grindstaff said. “Why not split the districts up into two so you have more districts – a total of 16 – then you have 16 commissioners or 18 or whatever number?”

The commission has twice voted against downsizing over the past eight years, citing in part a lack of information on how committees would work.

One of the proposed committee setups was as follows:

Operations/Internal                  Community/ External
Budget                                Health & Welfare
Landfill                              Law Enforcement
Rules & Bylaws                        Highway
Buildings & Grounds                   Education
Nominating                            Beer Board
*All other committees would stay the same

Randall Jenkins, chairman of the rules and bylaws committee, said Washington County committees, by comparison, do not all have equal representation of all districts.

“Washington County committees are completely uneven,” Jenkins shared. “They have the same amount of standing committees that we do, and each committee has five commissioners on it out of the 15 commissioners they have, so it’s not equal representation right off of the bat.”

He said Washington County begins committee meetings at 8 a.m. on the first Thursday of the month, allocating an hour for each committee, with the budget committee meeting at the end of the day.

“No offense to anyone in here, but all you are going to have is retirees because they are the only people that could participate,” said Commissioner Daniel McInturff.

Jenkins also said that staggering terms for the commission members would not be allowed by state law after verifying with county attorney Josh Hardin.

The next Rules and Bylaws workshop is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at the Carter County Courthouse.