Clay Walker, who took the helm of NETWORKS last January and succeeded Richard Venable. Photo by David Grace.
BLOUNTVILLE — After a decade in business for business, Sullivan County's regional economic development effort is changing the way its board does business.
A bylaws change is to cut the number of voting NETWORKS — Sullivan Partnership board members from 24 to 13 and make those 13 the same 13 that comprise the board's Executive Committee. That committee is growing from nine current members.
The Kingsport, Bristol, Tenn., and Bluff City governing bodies have approved the changes. The Sullivan County Commission approved them on first reading in June and is to approve on second and final reading in July. NETWORKS is a joint effort of the county, Kingsport, Bristol and Bluff City.
New NETWORKS Chief Executive Officer Clay Walker said the change, in part, is being made so that members of the full board don't feel like they are simply ratifying the decisions of the executive group.
"I look at it more as an expansion of the Executive Committee rather than a reduction of the full board," Walker said in a recent interview. "The votes are not as important as the voices. We're still going to be inclusive."
The timing sets up the Aug. 21 NETWORKS meeting as the first to operate with the new group of 13.
That also is when 2013-14 Vice Chairman Mitch Walters might become chairman, if the new board votes for him to replace 2013-14 Chairman Jim Street. Walker said the Aug. 21 meeting probably would be an Executive Committee meeting and the group could decide to choose Walters as chairman — the traditional path from vice chairman — or keep Street or appoint someone else.
That can't be determined until the membership of the new group is set and it meets. NETWORKS was formally created in June of 2004, so the change is to be official just more than 10 years after its founding. Walker, who took the helm of NETWORKS in January to replace outgoing CEO Richard Venable, said the board approved the bylaws changes in April.
"It's just the voting membership that's going to be different," Walker said of guests and support staff still being welcome at the public NETWORKS meetings. Venable is unopposed in the August general election for county mayor after defeating incumbent Mayor Steve Godsey in the Republican primary. That means Venable is to become a voting member of the board and appoint county members in September.
The 13 voting members are to be the county mayor and at least one commissioner and three others appointed by the mayor; the Kingsport mayor and three appointed by that mayor; the Bristol mayor and two appointed by the Bristol mayor, including at least one Bristol City Council member; and the Bluff City mayor.
Ex-officio members, who do not vote, are to be the Kingsport, Bristol and county school directors, Kingsport and Bristol city managers, one each Bristol and Kingsport chambers of commerce representatives, a Northeast State Community College representative and the NETWORKS CEO.
Permanent ex-officio members are to be one each from American Electric Power, Bristol Tennessee Essential Services and the Johnson City Power Board and the immediate past chairman.
Another change is that any board member who fails to attend three consecutive regularly scheduled meetings may lose his or her position, with the board to appoint a replacement to complete the term of office. Walker said the board will decide that member's fate.
"This conversation started before I ever got here," Walker said, adding that serious illness or other reasons would be considered as mitigating factors.
"We don't want it to be punitive," Walker said. "We need to be sure we have a quorum to conduct our business."
Regular full board meetings used to be set every other month and the Executive Committee once a month. However, under the bylaws change, the full board would meet in regular quarterly sessions and the same group would meet as the Executive Committee eight times a year, on the months without a quarterly meeting.
The members would serve three-year terms, initially staggered to one-, two- and three-year terms so the board would not be in a position of potentially losing all members at once.