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It’s in the voters’ hands now

Charter form of government will be on November ballot

In the Nov. 8 election, voters will have the opportunity to change the form of government the county has had since 1801, and a process that began in 2016 will come to fruition.

In 2016, 10-percent of Anderson County registered voters signed a petition to form a charter commission. This commission began holding monthly meetings with the purpose of drafting a charter. While the commission listened to all county officials and department heads describe their duties and responsibilities, very few citizens expressed interest in a charter, either by appearing before the commission or sending emails.

Based on that lack of interest, commissioners questioned the need for a charter. This brought about a lawsuit delaying the process. The court ruled that because citizens had presented a petition to form a charter commission, the charter commission was bound by law to produce a charter.

“There are pros and cons,” V. L. Stonecipher, chairman of the commission, said. “It is our job to write the charter and present it. It is not my job to tell people how to vote.”

“It puts more power in the hands of the citizens,” Jay Yeager, the county’s law director, told the Sept. 26 meeting of the charter commission, “What they do with that power is the concern. People do not understand the complexities of government.”

Basically, under a charter form of government, within certain limits, the county government can be tailor made to fit the desires of the citizens. The main difference between the present form of county government and a charter form of government is that there is a mechanism for creating a referendum to amend the charter.

If 10-percent of registered voters request an amendment, that amendment is placed on a ballot and can be enacted by a simple majority vote.

Under the proposed charter, the duties and responsibilities of elected officials remain the same. However, elected officials can be removed from office by a referendum.

Under the proposed charter, commissioners can impose fines for violations of the law and those fines will be kept in the county. Under the present system, those fines go to the state.

Another plus for the proposed charter is that it provides for an enterprise zone, which could help Anderson County economically.

One item that is not in the proposed charter is term limits. The committee discussed term limits but decided to exclude that item from the proposed charter.

“The best form of term limits is election,” Stonecipher said. Office holders can be voted out, he said.

There are only two Tennessee counties, Knox and Shelby, that have the charter form of government, and they have had numerous lawsuits over the system.