Resolution would cut Hawkins commissioners from 21 to 14 after the Aug. 2 election

Jeff Bobo • May 14, 2018 at 8:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — An out-of-order resolution submitted for the May 21 Hawkins County Commission meeting would reduce the number of commissioners from 21 to 14 in 2018 instead of the 2022 reduction that was approved by the commission last month.

If approved, that's throwing a huge monkey wrench in the Aug. 2 county general election.

Voters would be asked to choose two commissioners from each district instead of three, despite the fact that they voted for three during the May 1 primary.

On Friday, commissioners Mike Herrell and Rick Brewer went to the county clerk's office to turn in the new resolution, which is co-sponsored by Herrell and Dawson Fields.

The deadline to get that resolution on the May 21 commission agenda had passed, so it was turned in as an out-of-order resolution.

On Monday, the resolution was checked over by County Attorney Jim Phillips, who gave it the go-ahead to be submitted at the end of the May 21 meeting.

Will this resolution come up for a vote?

Herrell told the Times News on Monday there's probably not much of a chance his out-of-order resolution will make it to the floor for a vote on May 21.

Out-of-order resolutions must be approved unanimously by the commission to be added to the meeting agenda.

With multiple commissioners sitting "on the bubble" as the third highest vote-getter in their district primary election, it's unlikely to be added to the agenda unanimously.

The earliest it could be placed on the agenda would be for the June 25 county commission meeting, but by then it will be too late.

To meet the 45-day pre-election deadline, June 18 is the deadline to mail out military and overseas ballots.

Why submit this resolution now?

Herrell and Fields co-sponsored the resolution approved in April that will reduce the commission membership from 21 to 14 the next time commissioners come up for election in 2022.

When he submitted the resolution in April, Herrell's original goal was to reduce the number of commissioners to 14 in 2018.

But he was advised by Phillips that wouldn't be possible, which was true for the May 1 primary election because the resolution was submitted within the 45 day mail out deadline for military and overseas ballots.

But what neither of them considered was that it wasn't too late to change the ballot of the Aug. 2 general election.

Herrell said he was contacted recently by independent county mayor candidate John Neubert, who had discovered via communications with the state election office in Nashville that it is legal for the commission to change the Aug. 2 ballot to "pick two commissioners" in each of the seven districts within the 45 day deadline.

Herrell said he verified Neubert's findings with Phillips, but by then it was too late to get the resolution on the agenda for the May meeting without it being an out-of-order resolution.

What would the impact be on the election office?

Elections Administrator Donna Sharp told the Budget Committee on Monday it would cost approximately $19,500 to change the Aug. 2 ballots to reflect two county commission choices instead of three.

She said it’s a complicated process that involves hiring technicians from the voting machine vendor, reprogramming the machines, conducting the required tests and doing a second military and overseas mailer.

Upon hearing that figure, Herrell told the Times News, "Getting rid of seven commissioners will offset the cost.”

Commissioners are paid $100 per monthly meeting and $50 per committee meeting. 

Herrell added, "We tried to do it now (in 2018) and Jim Phillips told us we couldn't, just because we were already this close to the election. Now we're out of time to do anything. If I'd known in April we could still change it for the general election, that's what I would have done. I'm still going to try, but I'll be honest — if this resolution makes it to the floor I'll be surprised.

An attempt to manipulate the election?

Budget Committee Chairman Stacy Vaughan said this out-of-order resolution seems to be an attempt by some commissioners to manipulate the outcome of the election because they didn't like the results of the primary.

"I didn't have an issue with the original resolution that gave everybody ample time, but my issue as a commissioner is changing the rules midstream,” Vaughan said. “You have a primary, and some commissioners aren't happy with the primary, and they want to change the rules for the next election. Once you start an election cycle, my opinion is it's not a good practice to come in and change the rules to benefit what your personal agenda would be.”

Vaughan added, “This has got smoke and mirrors written all over it."

Vaughan was the third highest vote-getter in his district primary. Herrell acknowledged the he and Vaughan have had differences in the past, but he said this proposal isn't political.

"I don't care who won, who didn't win, whatever, Herrell said.

Herrell added, "You've got so many taxpayers in the county who want it to go to two. They think there's too many of us, and I agree with them. There are too many for what we do."


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