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Charter Amendments — for and against

I would like to comment on two Knox County Charter amendments that are on the ballot. These are questions 3 and 4.

While these amendments contain several items, the fundamental and overriding aspects of them is the loss of our right to vote for several Knox County offices.

I serve as the treasurer of a “grass roots” group Citizens Committed to Save Our Right to Vote, and I ask for your vote to reject these charter amendments.

Amendment 4 is a major “power grab” by the proponents of these changes. Presently the citizens of Knox County elect the County law director, trustee, County clerk and register of deeds. These four positions would be appointed by the County mayor if this amendment passes. This would be a huge loss in citizen oversight if this were to occur, and would represent a major power concentration for the mayor.

At present, the Knox County law director is independent of all other units of county government. The law director represents all units of government without having to report to any other office. We should maintain that independence, and not place the law director under the control of the County mayor. I believe that the law director should be free to give independent legal advice without outside influence.

Amendment 4 would not only take our right to vote for four offices, but it would allow the mayor to define the duties of these offices. That constitutes a conflict with the Tennessee State Constitution, and with other provisions of the Knox County Charter. Both of these documents establish the duties of these offices and what their roles are. This is what makes for lawsuits when there are differences in the law. The key point is that the backers of these amendments do not believe that the citizens of Knox County have the ability to make wise decisions, and that the mayor should make it for them.

The proponents of these amendments claim that these offices are “mere administrators.” These offices are much more than that and in fact they are decision and policy makers. These offices are really an extension of the state. Dwight Kessel and Thomas Schumpert were our two previous County executives (mayors) prior to Mayor [Michael “Mike”] Ragsdale. Both were outstanding persons and leaders. Mr. Kessel was the County clerk and Mr. Schumpert was the trustee prior to their elections to County executive. I don’t believe that they were “mere administrators.”

Amendment 3 would reduce the number of district Commissioners from 19 to nine. For the 5th District that would be a reduction of three down to one, and all the other districts going from two to one. Two countywide seats would be added to the nine making the total commissioners 11.

The 5th District covers the Farragut, Cedar Bluff, A. L. Lotts and Concord precincts. While some district Commission candidates spent $20,000 on their campaigns, a countywide race could easily take $100,000 to be competitive. With the two at-large seats and with fewer district Commissioners, those who wish to control Knox County legislative action would gain influence at the expense of the average citizen. I also believe that this would lead to full-time politicians instead of part-time legislators.

This amendment should be rejected based upon less representation at the district level, and less influence of “grass root” citizens.

The proponents of these amendments have spent a vast amount of money pushing their agenda. The Baker Center Report that they refer to has been misstated. First, the report did not make “best practices” recommendations. It is simply a report on other counties around the country of our size and what they do. The report makes no recommendations at all. Second, they misuse the data reported in the study as to average legislative size. Nearly half of the comparative counties have an appointed chief executive with a small and usually full-time legislative body. While counties with an elected executive like Knox County the average legislative size was 17. The proponents make claims that Knox County needs nepotism and conflict of interest policies. I agree that we do and the fact is Knox County has adopted these policies that were recommended by the Knox County ethics committee. In fact the language is nearly identical.

The fact is that the proponents of these amendments have made numerous misstatements and their main goal is to concentrate power into the hands of the few at the expense of average citizens. Please vote against amendments 3 and 4 of our Knox County Charter.


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