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Sullivan County Commission goes about-face about time

J. H. Osborne • Apr 17, 2018 at 5:30 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — After a lengthy debate Monday, the Sullivan County Commission voted by a narrow margin to change the time of its monthly business meetings from morning to evening. But apparently not all those voting in favor knew what they were voting on, and a motion soon followed to reconsider. That motion was approved. And on the re-do vote on changing the meetings from morning to evening, the proposal failed by one vote.

Background

Commissioner Matthew Johnson was lead sponsor of the resolution to move to evening meetings, which he said would allow more members of the public a chance to attend meetings. Johnson first introduced the proposal last month, and it has since been discussed at committee meetings and the full commission’s work session last week.

It was feedback from those meetings that Johnson said led him to enter into the record two amendments to his original resolution. Johnson clearly stated the amendments as debate of the issue began Monday. The first: The change would have taken place next month, not in July. The second: To further streamline the commission’s process of conducting county business and to keep the number of evening meetings for the full commission to one, the change to an evening business meeting time would also end the relatively new practice of holding a monthly “work session.”

Work sessions became a part of the County Commission’s monthly calendar about four years ago and were originally promoted by proponents as a replacement for monthly meetings of the commission’s three primary committees. Prior to the institution of work sessions, which include the whole commission talking about that month’s agenda items, each of the committees — Administrative, Budget and Executive — had its own meeting and discussions and provided a recommendation on each resolution to the full commission at the monthly business meeting. The Administrative and Executive committees have continued to meet monthly, despite the work session concept.

And public comment, not a part of work sessions, is a long held staple of monthly business meetings.

Johnson’s proposal, as amended, would pretty much have returned the commission to the way it conducted county business prior to the advent of work sessions four years ago — only in the evening, rather than the morning. After much discussion, the commission voted in favor of Johnson’s plan. But then, barely after the results of the vote were announced, County Mayor Richard Venable made mention of the next work session — and County Clerk Jeanie Gammon, keeper of the votes, pointed out the commission had just voted to end work sessions.

Nuh-uh!

The electronic voting board, which also acts as request-to-speak queue for commissioners, immediately lit up. Multiple commissioners said they didn’t know they’d done that ... that they didn’t vote on the amendments regarding making the change in May and eliminating the work session. Johnson said he’d read it out loud and given out copies and, most importantly, had entered the amendments in writing with Gammon. And under parliamentary procedure followed by the commission, a sponsor may amend a resolution without a separate vote on the amendment(s).

County Attorney Dan Street explained commissioners could take another vote on the issue if someone who had voted in favor of the resolution made a motion to reconsider and got a second from another commissioner who had voted in favor the first time around. That occurred, after much testifying from believers of the work session concept, and Johnson’s resolution failed by one vote.

More no change

The commission also rejected Commissioner Pat Shull’s proposal to reduce their own pay by $42 per month (from their current $680 per month).

And more no change (at least not yet)

Commissioner Bill Kilgore proposed reducing the number of county commissioners from 24 to 14 in the 2022 election cycle by going from the current 11 districts of varying populations (requiring different numbers of commissioners, from one to three) to seven districts of the same population with two commissioners each. The districts would mimic the seven districts of the Sullivan County Board of Education. The proposal didn’t get a warm reception. Kilgore introduced it on “first reading,” which means it will be on the agenda for a potential vote next month.

Just one more rejection of change

On most resolutions, commissioners cast their votes electronically with the results displayed in real time on large screens — a light, next to each commissioner’s name, signals when and how each commissioner votes: green for yes, red for no, blue for pass. Shull made a motion to keep the tally board out of sight until voting closed and the results were announced. Several commissioner indicated the mere idea was insulting, implying they based votes on how others were voting rather than making an independent call. After some debate, someone raised the question of whether Shull’s motion could be voted on because it wasn’t clear if a cost would be involved (and commissioners believed any proposal to spend money must be by written resolution). Venable ruled Shull’s motion would have to be put in writing, on the assumption some tech support would be required at some cost to do what Shull proposed. Shull objected to Venable’s ruling but couldn’t get a second. Venable suggested if Shull wants to pursue the resolution, he should bring it back in writing next month. Shull said he’d be back.

 

 

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