Commissioner Mike Herrell, who cosponsored the resolution with Commissioner Dawson Fields, told the Times News Thursday he’s hoping the change will save money as well as increase the input of each commissioner.
Another motivation for the change, Herrell said, is to unify the panel.
Many of the same commissioners were appointed by County Mayor Melville Bailey to the most important committees. That’s one faction.
Then there’s another faction made up of those who aren’t on any of the important committees and whose only opportunity to have their voices heard on important issues is when they come up for a vote during the full commission meetings.
On any controversial issue, such as last year’s budget and wheel tax increase, you can usually depend on those two factions voting in opposition to one another.
Herrell said he hopes reducing the number of commissioners will pull the body together.
“So many taxpayers have asked me to turn this (resolution) in and try to reduce the number of commissioners,” Herrell said. “We’ve got too many commissioners. If this passes, the new 21 commissioners (elected in 2018) better do their job because in 2022 seven of them are going to be gone. Whoever wants to be commissioner, they’re going to have to do their job.”
Herrell added, “Most of the county employees who are on the county commission are on the bigger committees. It isn’t right. I think going to 14 members, each member is going to be on more of these bigger committees, and they’re going to have to do their job. I’ve got the same view that all the taxpayers have in Hawkins County. Let’s reduce it, and maybe we can pull together by doing this.”
Hawkins County currently has seven districts, with three commissioners representing each district for a total of 21.
In the event that there is a tie vote, which can happen if there are commissioners absent, the county mayor is supposed to cast the tiebreaker.
Under the new proposal, there would be two commissioners representing each of the seven districts for a total of 14, with the county mayor still responsible for breaking ties.
Commissioners make $100 per meeting, so that’s an $8,400 cut in commissioner pay expenditures off the top.
There are also transportation costs for commissioner training, which would be reduced, and a handful of commissioners receive county health insurance benefits, which is another cost that might be reduced.
If approved, the change couldn’t take effect until after the 2022 countywide election, however, because the 2018 election with 21 contested commissioner seats has already began.
Herrell said he would be in favor of reducing the number of commissioners even further, but that can’t occur until redistricting takes place.
“I’ve heard, let’s go to nine, which is the state-required minimum,” he said. “The only way nine would work is if we redistrict, which is supposed to happen in 2020. My resolution is set up. If it passes and we redistrict, we can go back and look at this resolution again after redistricting. Maybe when we redistrict we could look at having one commissioner per district and make nine districts.”
The resolution will be considered at the April 23 commission meeting in the Hawkins County Courthouse at 9 a.m.