Anderson voters set to shape the future of local government

When Anderson County voters hit the polls for the November 8th election, they will have a large say in how the county government will operate in the future.

The question on the ballot is simple: do you want to adopt a charter form of government or not? A ‘yes’ vote means that you do want a charter form of county government, while a ‘no’ vote would leave the county government the way it is.

The Charter Commission was in 2016 after a group of citizens got enough signatures to ask voters to select one representative from each of the county’s 8 Commission Districts to examine the issue and draw up a charter. After dozens of meetings, during which no county government officials or citizens advocated for a charter form of government, the Commission thought their work was done and adjourned without drawing up a charter.

That decision was also contested in court, and eventually the two sides resolved the lawsuit after the Charter Commission agreed to resume meetings, write a charter and place it on the ballot for voters to decide.

According to information from the County Law Director’s office, the basic premise of a charter form of government is that counties “have no authority except that expressly given to them by the statutes or necessarily implied from those laws created by the Tennessee General Assembly.” This means that many of the powers that cities and towns have are not available to county governments unless a charter is approved. The charter form of government adds more flexibility and broader powers through the adoption of ordinances, and citizens themselves are given the right to call for referendums on matters of importance. Only two Tennessee counties—Knox and Shelby—currently have charter forms of government.

Other advantages of a charter form of county government, according to the Law Director’s office include:

  • Allowing citizens to control changes in government operations through passage of referendums;
  • Permits citizens to have a greater voice in local county government policies and encourages more citizens to be involved in local government;
  • Reduces state legislative interference in purely local county affairs;
  • Allows the County Commission to pass penal ordinances with fines up to $1000, as opposed to the $50 limit imposed on counties that follow the Constitutional form of government, which would also allow the county to retain the majority of revenue from those fines instead of sending those proceeds to Nashville;
  • Provides for a review of governmental operations every six years by a Charter Review Committee, which can recommend improvements.
  • Creates “Enterprise Zones” to provide economic stimulus incentives to areas in need of revitalization, a capability not allowed under the current form of government; and
  • Permits broader legislative powers.

The information provided by the county also lists several disadvantages with the charter system of government, saying that many opponents of the charter form of government point to the “years of lawsuits, complications in government operations” and other issues that have plagued both Knox and Shelby counties.

Other disadvantages identified by officials include assertions that it “diminishes the well-accepted form of government by bypassing elected county officials who are much more knowledgeable about local county affairs than the average citizen.”

Here are some more of the disadvantages:

  • Frequent changes in county government through repeated referendums and amendments may cause instability in government operations;
  • Emergency amendments to the Charter for strictly “housekeeping” measures are very cumbersome and may take months, if not years to pass, if turned down by the voters;
  • Referendum votes can only be scheduled every two years to coincide with county general elections, therefore, if all tax increases are restricted to referendum approval y the citizens, this process may limit the county’s ability to deal with emergency revenue shortages and other “complex governmental issues;”
  • Ballots could become excessive in length with multiple referendum and Charter amendment issues that could cause citizens to get discouraged from voting or voting in a referendum they know very little about;
  • Increases the opportunity for “politically motivated special interest groups to weaponize the referendum process; and
  • crowded ballots with “nonsensical amendments” may create disinterest or discourage voters from taking part, which could then allow special interests to sway and even manipulate elections.

There are three public hearing and informational meetings this week to discuss the proposed charter and its ramifications for Anderson County.

The first is tonight (Tuesday, October 18th) at 6:30 pm in room 312 of the Courthouse in Clinton.

The second meeting is set for Wednesday, October 19th at 6:30 pm at the Oak Ridge Civic Center.

The third meeting is set for Thursday, October 20th at 6:30 pm at Anderson County High School.

To read the proposed Charter, go to www.andersoncountytn.org, and click on the Anderson County Proposed Charter link on the homepage. You can email the Charter Commission with your questions directly at chartercommission@andersoncountytn.org, or call 865-463-6866.

Early voting for the November 8th election will be held from Wednesday, October 19th through Thursday, November 3rd.

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