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Commission vote on library agreement fails to pass

Due to a tied vote, the Anderson County Commission failed to create a formal agreement about the relationship between the county government and its libraries.

Commissioner Robert McKamey made the motion, and Commissioner and Library Board member Joshua Anderson seconded at the commission’s March 18 meeting.

McKamey said the agreement just put in writing the current system of how the county and cities run the libraries.

Commission Chairman Tyler Mayes later disputed that claim, however, saying the agreement stated that the cities were responsible for the utilities, but the county currently pays for all utilities except for a portion of Norris Library utilities.

“There’s nothing in writing,” McKamey said regarding the current situation. “This just gets us through this fiscal year and gives us something in writing.”

The agreement would have involved the county funding the library system with $526,484 per year in property taxes. The library employees would be county employees, and the county would be in charge of the Briceville Library building.

The cities of Norris, Rocky Top and Clinton would continue to control their library buildings and each would give a different amount of funding to their respective libraries. Clinton would pay $80,400, Norris $32,250 and Rocky Top $17,665.

Commissioners Steven Verran, Shain Vowell, Tim Isbel, Tracy Wandell, Robert Smallridge, Jerry White, Anderson and McKamey voted for the agreement. Commissioners Mayes, Aaron Wells, Sabra Beauchamp, Phil Yager, Shelly Vandagriff, Michael Foster, Denise Palmer and Anthony Allen voted against it.

Mayes told The Courier News he had concerns.

“The county’s cost for library services has increased every year, while the city contributions have remained the same for quite some time,” he said. “That needs to be addressed, and the agreement presented to us ... did not address those issues. I support our public libraries and want to formalize our arrangement, but I cannot support the terms as they were presented.”

Beauchamp told The Courier News she agreed.

“I personally feel like if we do not look into all the documents of how the county ended up paying more and more every year, but the cities have maintained the same amount over the years, then we are not being good elected officials for the people we serve,” she said.

This failed motion came after discussion about the library system at previous meetings.

While debate over whether to remove books put focus on the county’s libraries, Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank said she wanted to investigate library agreements because of complaints during the COVID-19 pandemic closure.

She said people wanted libraries to re-open.

“My office was worn out,” Frank said.

“The citizenry believed ‘you’re funding everything. They’re your employees, and it’s the Anderson County Library Board. Why can’t you do something?’”

As Palmer said at an earlier meeting, the Library Board hires and fires employees at all the county’s libraries.

While the County Commission appoints the Library Board members, it does not overrule their decisions.