Herrell, Barrett seeking chairmanship of Hawkins County commission

Jeff Bobo • Sep 19, 2018 at 8:46 AM

ROGERSVILLE — According to a resolution approved by the county commission in 1982, newly elected Hawkins County Mayor Jim Lee will be giving up more than his gavel and potential tie-breaking vote when he forgoes the chairmanship of the commission next week.

Lee has opted to be Hawkins County’s first mayor to take a non-chairman role on the panel. That makes his relationship with the commission similar to that of the governor and the General Assembly in that he has no vote and doesn’t control the meetings, but he does have the power to veto.

The “chairman” picks the committees  

That 1982 resolution states that “the chairman of the county commission” appoints members to the commission’s committees including the Budget Committee, Safety Committee, Ethics Committee, Buildings Committee, etc.

County Attorney Jim Phillips told the Times-News he believes the intent of the 1982 resolution was for the county mayor to make the committee appointments because the mayor had always been the chairman of the county commission.

“Back in 1982, the word ‘chairman’ and ‘mayor’ may have been spontaneous to mean the same thing,” Phillips said. “If you go by ‘uses and custom,’ I would think the mayor still makes committee appointments. But if someone raises that issue, it might be best to get that clarified by (a vote of) the county commission as to whether the chairman or the mayor makes those appointments. The present commission can do anything they want to with it.”

Phillips added, “It’s hard to say what they meant by ‘chairman’ back in 1982 because at that time the chairman was the county mayor. It could well be what the so-called chairman, according to what the 1982 rules of order meant, was the county mayor. The county mayor has always done it. Back in 1982, I don’t think they anticipated that the chairman would not be the county mayor.”

Commission chairman nominees

There are currently two candidates to serve as the chairman of the Hawkins County Commission, including District 7 Commissioner Mike Herrell, who was nominated by a resolution introduced by newly elected Commissioner Mark DeWitte.

DeWitte told the Times News Tuesday, “Prior to being sworn in, the mayor and I talked about his intention to decline being chairman. He also asked me to sponsor the resolution to get the discussion started at the meeting. Mayor Lee has a pre-established level of confidence and trust in Commissioner Herrell, and I feel it advantageous, to the initial harmony of the commission, to start with a chair who has his support.”

On Monday, however, Commissioner Hannah speaks told the Times News she will be nominating District 2 Commissioner Jeff Barrett.

“Commissioner Barrett has several years service on the commission,” Speaks said. “His voting record shows that he has always voted independently and has never conformed to a clique. He strives to better himself through continuing education in order to more effectively serve and has become a certified public administrator through CTAS. I have no doubt if chosen he will give the position a balanced approach.”

Jeff Barrett

Barrett told the Times News Monday he was waiting to find out Lee’s plans regarding the chairmanship of the commission before making a decision on whether to seek that appointment or nominate someone else.

But Lee’s decision to forgo the chairmanship wasn’t reported publicly until after the agenda for the Sept. 24 commission meeting was released containing the resolution with Herrell’s nomination.

Barrett said he believes there would have been other nomination resolutions on the Sept. 24 agenda if Lee’s decision had been widely known. However, other chairman candidates can be nominated from the floor during the meeting.

“I do not believe that the group of county commissioners that are now in office realize that whoever is elected to be chair of the county commission is the person who selects the members of the various committees that are to be filled,” Barrett said. “I feel that my degree in banking and finance, certified public administrator certification, business background, prior service on the Church Hill Planning Commission, and other areas of public service in my past qualify me for the (chairman) position. I want the commissioners to know that they do have options.”

Barrett added, “It is up to them who they think is better prepared and has the ability to lead. If selected for the chairmanship, I will base my choices on education, qualifications, experience and their ability to work as a team instead of private, personal agendas.”

Mike Herrell

Herrell told the Times News Tuesday that if he is appointed chairman of the county commission his plan is to sit down with the mayor and the chairman pro tem, and make committee appointments with them.

“Yes, it is the chairman’s job, but we’ve got so many new commissioners I’d like to put everybody in a place that’s going to help the county,” Herrell said. “I am still trying to figure out everybody’s qualifications, and I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know many of them. Since we’ve got a new mayor, and we’re changing his role with him having veto rights and a commissioner actually being chairman, I’m hoping with the pro tem all three of us can sit down and figure this out and put people in the right place that’s best for the county.”

Herrell added, “The reason I want to be chairman, I want to get the meetings where we can maintain some order. In the past, our meetings have just went wild. People just speak whenever they want to speak, and they just do whatever they want to do. That wasn’t good for us, and it gave us a black eye. I also want to keep the process transparent and make sure everyone has the information available to them. The last mayor we had didn’t tell us everything. He just told us what he wanted us to know, and I think that was probably part of the reason we were divided.”

Currently the only official nominee for chairman pro tem is District 5 Commissioner John Metz, although nominations for that position can be made from the floor Monday as well.