The commission can't decrease its number of seats before 2022 because the 2018 countywide election has already started with 21 commission seats on the ballot.
But based on the resolution that was approved Monday by a vote of 13-3 with four abstaining, there will only be 14 commission seats up for grabs on the 2022 ballot.
That will decrease the number of commissioners representing each of the seven districts from three to two.
But with redistricting scheduled to occur sometime after the 2020 census, it's possible that the number of commissioners might change again before the 2022 election comes around depending on how the new district lines are drawn and/or if the number of districts changes.
How will redistricting affect the 2022 countywide election?
Sometime after the 2020 census, but before the 2022 county election, Hawkins County will be required to conduct redistricting so that the population in each district reflects equal representation on the commission.
As of the 2010 census, Hawkins County's population was 56,833, but it is expected to exceed 60,000 in 2020, which will likely result in some lines being redrawn, or if the commission desires, the addition of districts.
Tennessee law requires a minimum of nine county commissioners, and it has been suggested by Commissioner Mike Herrell and others that the county increase its number of districts to nine, reduce the number of commissioners to nine and elect one commissioner per district.
But that's a debate for another day.
Monday's resolution reducing the number of commissioners from 21 to 14 was co-sponsored by Commissioners Dawson Fields and Herrell.
The only spoken opposition to the resolution was related to its timing, which some commissioners suggested is premature.
Comments suggesting the timing is premature
Commissioner Darrell Gilliam said he is 100 percent in support of the resolution, but he said he believes the decision should be made by the next commission and county mayor that will be in place on Sept. 1 after the Aug. 2 general election.
"This close to election time I feel it unfair for this commission to vote on this, and I feel it unfair for me to vote on it," Gilliam said.
Commissioner Dwight Carter said Monday's resolution will likely become a moot point after redistricting, when the future commission redraws the districts to match the changes in population density.
“If you reduce the commission, you have a potential of giving more power to where the concentration of population is, and you reduce the representation of your rural communities,” Carter said. “If that's what you want, then vote to reduce it to 14."
Commissioner Eugene Christian said he'd received comments from the public stating that the resolution was intended to make commissioners look good in an election year.
Christian noted that he believes 14 is the right number of people for the commission, and he could support the resolution if it had been for 2018, but he doesn't think the current commission should be setting policies four years in advance because the newly elected commission might need to change it depending on the circumstances.
Comments in favor of the change
District 4 commission candidate Woody Boyd told the commission he was in favor of approving the resolution Monday because it sets an example for the next commission.
"The next commission is likely going to have to cut spending, probably going to have to raise taxes, probably going to have to say to some county employees that old broken down truck you've got is going to have to last a little longer," Boyd said. "I think this sets an example of the commission cuts here first."
Commissioner John Metz noted that he sponsored an identical resolution that was submitted in September 2014 — and again in January 2017 — but didn't have enough support on the commission.
"If it's on the basis of just looking good for the election, so be it," Metz said. "I don't care. I'll support it. I think the majority of the population that I've spoken to is supportive of it. As a matter of fact, (former commissioner) Charlie Freeman submitted it in 2010, so this has been a long, ongoing discussion with little support, so if we've got momentum just because of the election, so be it."
Commissioners who voted in favor of the reduction included Dwight Carter, Eugene Christian, Fred Castle, B.D. Cradic, Danny Alvis, Greg Fletcher, Dawson Fields, Mark Linkous, John Metz, Nancy Barker, Rick Brewer, Charlie Newton and Mike Herrell. Those opposed were Jeff Barrett, Linda Kimbro and Joe McLain, and those who abstained were Syble Vaughan-Trent, Glenda Davis, Darrell Gilliam and Bob Palmer.