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Public hearing rules discussed

The mechanics of the April 3 public hearing for proposed land acquisition off McFee Road generated some debate at the Farragut Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting March 27.

At a previous Board meeting, Mayor W. Edward “Eddy” Ford III described the setup of the public hearing in response to a question about procedure from McFee Road resident Ralph Dimmick.

“We’ll have to move on the fly here,” Ford said, proceeding to lay out the procedure of the meeting. Alderman Thomas “Tom” Rosseel would speak first, followed by other Board members and Town attorney Tom Hale.

Citizens could speak for up to five minutes. Ford encouraged Board members to listen quietly and not “interact” with the citizens. After the Board heard from the last speaker, the meeting would be adjourned.

Board members, including Ford, repeatedly referred to the meeting as a “public hearing,” although Ford added, “the Board will conduct the hearing.”

“It will not be emceed by the staff. This is a public hearing of the Farragut Board of Mayor and Aldermen and so we will sit in our positions and receive the input from our citizens,” Ford said.

Rosseel called these mechanics into question.

“I looked back at some of the recent public meetings that we’ve had, such as the discussion of red light cameras … impact fees, leisure services master plan, road improvements and the Watt Road extension.

“And in all of these cases, these meetings were run by staff or third party facilitators, and so I think that’s probably the best model for what we’re going to be talking about. I would like to make a motion that we, as a Town, hire a third party facilitator to run the meeting and that Mr. [Dan] Olson, Mr. [Gary] Palmer and Mr. [Tom] Hale be available to answer questions and ensure good order of the meeting,” Rosseel said.

Alderman John Williams seconded the motion.

Ford then called attention to Tennessee Code Annotated section 6-3-106, which states that the mayor is the chief executive officer of the municipality and presides over all Board meetings. Ford asked Hale, Town attorney, to look at the section and give his input.

Hale said that Town Administrator Olson had called him after the March 13 Board meeting and asked if the procedure laid out in that meeting was correct.

Hale studied Tennessee Code Annotated and Robert’s Rules of Order, determining that “this public hearing is basically a meeting of the Board that has one agenda item, which is to hear what is to be said about this one issue.

“The Code provides that the Mayor has the duty to preside over meetings,” Hale added.

“It’s not a specially called Board meeting. This is very similar to what we’ve had [before] … it’s a public meeting,” Rosseel said.

Hale disagreed.

“On impact fees and on other meetings where we’ve had specially designated and hired consultants who have appeared here for the purpose of conducting those meetings, yes, we’ve put them up front and we’ve made them the presenters.

“At least as far as I can tell, the person who has the most knowledge of this particular matter we’re talking about is the person the Mayor, I thought, was kind enough to designate to speak at the outset of the meeting,” Hale said, indicating Rosseel.

Hale added that the Mayor could choose to relinquish his authority, but that a vote to have someone else preside over the hearing would require a total agreement among members of the Board. Vice-Mayor J. Michael “Mike” Haynes was absent.

“I don’t believe that the Mayor ever stated that he was relinquishing authority at any of these other meetings but, in fact, that is how we ran them,” Rosseel said.

“I am not relinquishing my authority if that’s an issue … I see no reason to further discuss this,” Ford said.

Alderman John Williams asked the difference between a public hearing and specially called Board meeting.

“Would it be your interpretation, then, that in the past public hearings that basically there was just a tacit agreement among the Board that someone else would conduct the hearing and that, in a technical sense, the Mayor delegated his authority to run the meeting to whoever was authorized to do so?”

“I guess you could reach that conclusion,” Hale said.

Rosseel pointed out that at past public hearings, the entire Board was not present.

“They weren’t called Board meetings and this is not a called Board meeting. This was a decision by the Board to have a public meeting,” Rosseel said. He added that precedent had led him to believe that third party facilitators were frequently used to host public hearings.

“By precedent I assumed that’s how it was done,” he said.

“Well, it doesn’t work by precedent; it works by what state law says. If somebody raises an issue and does not complain about it, then it doesn’t get dealt with,” Hale said.

Finally, Ford declared the motion out of order and resumed with the remaining items on the agenda. The public hearing will be held in the boardroom of Town Hall at 7 p.m., April 3.


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