Sullivan County leaders may vote on cell phone resolution

J. H. Osborne • Dec 16, 2007 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County commissioners could decide today whether they will ask for a state law banning cell phone use while driving.

A resolution supporting that move is among more than two dozen agenda items for the Sullivan County Commission’s monthly meeting.

Commissioner James King, of Kingsport, introduced the resolution last month. It hasn’t found much support from King’s fellow commissioners at the committee level. King couldn’t get a second in support of the measure when it came to the commission’s Administrative Committee, on which he serves, resulting in “no action.”

Co-sponsor Elliott Kilgore fared no better when he carried the resolution to the committee he serves on — the Executive Committee.

“It’ll never fly,” said Commissioner Linda Brittenham as the Executive Committee talked about the issue.

“Well, let’s try,” said Kilgore.

Again, “no action” was the end result by the Executive Committee. The Budget Committee followed suit the next night.

To gain commission approval today, the proposal needs at least 13 “yes” votes from the 24-member body.

Also needing at least 13 votes today is yet another attempt to revive a perennial dead horse: a resolution to declare support for changing state law so localities would have the option — if approved by local voters — of electing school superintendents, rather than having appointed superintendents.

“How many times have we passed that?” said Commissioner Mark Vance as the Budget Committee debated the issue.

“Every year,” said Commissioner Eddie Williams.

Another item up for possible vote today amends the county’s ethics policy.

Commissioner Joe Herron, one of seven people who serve on the county’s Ethics Committee, said the amendments are intended to make the ethics policy easier to understand.

The Ethics Committee did ask County Attorney Dan Street to sign off on the proposed amendments. Street said other than several suggested word changes, his only question was about the meaning of a particular item listed as an “acceptable” gift for county officials or employees.

That particular phrase is “sports activity,” in the following sentence:

“Food refreshments, sports activity or transportation when they are part of an official’s or employee’s participation in charitable, civic, political or community event.”

Street said an ethics policy could be written a thousand different ways, but the phrase “sport activity,” to him, seemed too “broad” and “not clear.”

He said it could mean going outside to play basketball, which would be fine, but if it was meant to include being treated to a more high-profile, sought-after event — like the Super Bowl — that would be a different issue.

The Ethics Committee met again last week to review Street’s suggested changes.

Gayvern Moore, the group’s secretary, said the committee made no changes to the phrase “sports activity” in the section Street questioned.

Earlier this year, to comply with a state mandate, the Sullivan County Commission adopted an ethics policy. Like a majority of counties statewide, Sullivan County adopted a model ethics policy written by the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS).

A few weeks ago, CTAS officials held a training session on the policy for county department heads and employees. A hot topic was whether acceptance of complimentary tickets to Bristol Motor Speedway would be a violation. A CTAS official later said the answer was “yes.”

In early August, the county’s Ethics Committee began drafting revisions to the policy, describing the action as “housekeeping.” They used the city of Kingsport’s ethics policy as a sort of guide, but amended many of the sections to be used in the county’s version.

The Sullivan County Commission is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

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