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Hammond hosts amendment forum

Fifth District County Commissioner Mike Hammond sponsored a forum on proposed charter amendments at Farragut Town Hall, Wednesday, Oct. 15.

The forum, intended for informational purposes and for voters to ask questions, quickly digressed into debate between factions “for” and “against” the amendments.

“You’re taking away the people’s right to vote and that’s not a good thing,” Patti Walker challenged amendment proponents Don Parnell and Don Sproles.

“If this single person [the mayor] has the right to appoint all these offices … Knox County’s got the equivalent of a Hitler or a Saddam Hussein,” she added, referring to Amendment 4, which eliminates voters’ rights to elect the offices of trustee, County clerk, register of deeds and law director. These offices would instead be appointed by the County mayor and ratified by County Commission.

“The bottom line is, we’re creating a situation where the mayor will have unprecedented power,” Mike Mitchell, a Farragut resident and opponent of the charter amendments, said.

“Some have said all of these amendments amount to creating a ‘Mayor King.’ First, most of them don’t take effect until 2010, when the current mayor is no longer in office,” Parnell, former Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commis-sion director, said.

“But in virtually every case, the County Commission has either a ratification role, or in the case of the office of inspector general, they appoint,” he added.

Amendment 4 also would eliminate the office of County auditor, “who gets his marching orders from County Commission,” and replace it with an inspector general, Parnell said.

That office would have “unbridled authority to go anywhere in Knox County government,” he added.

Mitchell and other audience members felt the amendments were misleading.

“People have the right to know what they’re voting on,” Mitchell said.

“I don’t think the average Knoxvillian understands things at this level,” he added.

Parnell discussed Amendment 3, which decreases the number of Commissioners from 19 to 11. Each district would be represented by only one Commissioner, plus two at-large representatives.

“There is no question that if you have one Commissioner for your district, you know precisely where the buck stops,” Parnell said.

Parnell said this would actually increase voters’ influence. Instead of voting for only two of 19 Commissioners, voters would elect three of 11; a difference between voting for 11 percent of Commissioners and 26 percent.

“Do the math … I did the math, and that’s what it is,” Parnell said.

Fewer commissioners would save the County approximately $200,000 and would keep factions to a minimum, said Sproles, Lunchbox restaurant owner.

Farragut resident Pamela Treacy asked if the Commission districts would be realigned to correspond with school districts.

Parnell said no, but the districts would be redrawn after the 2010 census to make each district’s population approximately equal.

Mitchell said the amendments were “too much, too fast,” and recommended voters reject the amendments this year and look at them again in 2010.

“Why not do it in 2010 and do it right?” Mitchell said.

“This is so divisive … there is no clock,” he added.

As debate grew heated, Treacy asked audience members who had decided how they would vote before attending the forum. Nearly half the audience members already had decided.

Treacy said she had just come to get answers so she could make an informed decision. A handful of audience members joined her in the sentiment.

“I expected a heated debate and I wasn’t disappointed,” Hammond said.

Former and current Commis-sioners, respectively, Frank and Craig Leuthold, both declaring opposition to the amendments, as well as former interim Commissioner Victoria DeFreese, Trustee Fred Sisk and Alderman Dot LaMarche, attended the forum.

“If you’re for it, vote for it. If you’re against it, vote against it,” Sisk said.

The amendments were allowed on the ballot after Knox Charter Petition gathered more than 100,000 signatures, al-though Commission would not allow the amendments to be placed on the ballot individually.

Instead, the amendments are divided into two questions: question three pertaining to the legislative body of County government (Commission) and question four to the executive branch, or mayor.


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