It’s past time to trim Sullivan Commission

Editorial Board • May 15, 2018 at 2:28 PM

A new majority of Sullivan County commissioners will take office this fall, and one of their first actions should be to follow Hawkins and Washington counties in cutting their size, to take effect at some future point.

Cutting the commission in half would save nearly $100,000 annually, money desperately needed. Two years ago commissioners rejected an attempt to cut just three of the county’s 24 commissioners, and some may have paid a price for it. Of 10 commissioners who opposed that reduction and who were up for re-election in the recent primary, four were defeated. Four more face voters in the general election in August.

A new commission with some of the deadwood pruned away has the best opportunity to make changes that, in addition to saving money, would improve the quality of government by requiring fewer commissioners to be more informed, and the efficiency with which county government operates.

Hawkins County recently cut its numbers from 21 commissioners to 14, beginning in 2022, and they are only paid $100 a month. Sullivan’s 24 commissioners, who all but trip over each other, collect $680 per month.

This year, a 2015 vote by the Washington County Commission takes effect, trimming their members from 25 to 15. With Washington County at 15 members and Hawkins at 14, it is well past time that Sullivan County fell in line and reduced its 24 commissioners who collectively cost county taxpayers more than $16,000 per month, plus benefits.

At least 15 seats on the commission will have changed hands when it meets after Sept. 1, based on incumbents who either didn’t run for re-election or were defeated. The turnover could be greater depending on the results of the general election this fall, where those who survived the GOP primary will face Democratic nominees or independent candidates.

Eight current commissioners chose not to seek re-election this year, three more ran for higher office, and in the primary seven lost their bids for re-election.

Depending on the general election, as many as 21 of the 24 commissioners could be new. And it isn’t just the failure to trim three members that played a part in defeating some longstanding commissioners.

Some commissioners may end up losing their seats because of their support for the $140 million bond debt to fund a school facilities plan.

A pledge by candidates for County Commission going into the Aug. 2 general election that they will support cutting the number of commissioners could go far to ensuring their success.

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