frank_talk (2006-25)

A Few Charter Fixes

Maybe the job is just too attractive, so reduce lifestyle choices

by Frank Cagle

The final details of a term-limits proposal favored by the Knox County Commission have yet to emerge, but I think the final disposition required to remove these people from office will involve the services of Rose Mortuary, Highland Memorial and Jarnigan and Son. But the Commission has signed off on a panel to “fix” flaws in the county Charter in an attempt to get the courts to go away and leave them to their fiefdoms as God intended.

The panel will work while court appeals go forward. Should they do a new Charter and include term limits these people would have to leave in 2018, unless they come up with another plan in the mean time.

You might wonder why people are so desperate to save their jobs on County Commission, a part-time hassle often subject to abuse from the public. Good question. Maybe we can make the job less appealing for some people and thus reduce the chance of them destroying local government in order to continue. It appears County Commission is so much jolly good fun people just can’t let go. Perhaps a few adjustments are in order.

In order to get the new Charter Review panel off to a good start, we offer them a few proposals they might include in the new charter to improve county government.

Let’s assign each commissioner’s vote a value of 10 points—a total of 190 points. For anything to pass, it would require 96 points—one more point than half.

For any commissioner who works for city or county government or the school board, subtract four points. So their vote is only worth six points. Then you subtract one point for any member of their immediate family who works for city or county government or the school board. Citizens could then decide whether to keep electing people whose vote is a negative number.

The next Charter amendment we would recommend is that any persons who get up to advocate a position before the County Commission be required to wear a sign around their neck identifying any county commissioner to whom they made a contribution in the last election, including the amount. It should include any client they are representing or any money they raised on the commissioner’s behalf. Those figures should be on the screen on the cable channel broadcasting County Commission meetings.

(We would also suggest a member of the Election Commission attend each meeting. If you cannot prove you voted in the last election, you would not be allowed to speak.)

The Charter should forbid any county commissioner serving on the Board of Zoning adjustments, and the nine Commission members currently serving should be replaced by members of the Knox County Ministerial Association. Deprived of the opportunity to listen to developers telling them why they should violate planning and zoning principles to grant a variance may be take enough joy out of the

County commissioners should be forbidden to serve on the Knox County Beer Board or any other regulatory board. They could serve on the committee regulating cable, provided they produce a duplicate of their bill and a cancelled check for cable services each month. (They could black out the movies they ordered.)

We realize these measures would impact the “lifestyle” of county commissioners and reduce their opportunities to serve certain members of their constituency.

There is an alternative proposal the Charter commission might consider.

Every month we go out and draft citizens and require their attendance down at the courthouse. They are then asked to make life and death decisions about matters they know nothing about. They may spend a week locked up and compelled to perform their civic service. It’s called jury duty.

I would suggest we assemble a jury pool each month, pick 12 good citizens from the group, and have them serve as county commissioners. Instead of attending a trial for a week, they would spend a week studying the agenda, asking questions and considering the evidence. Then they could have a County Commission meeting and vote. Then they would be dismissed and thanked for their service.

If you don’t think that works, then why do you think it works when they are deciding whether to find someone guilty of murder and sentencing them to death? Which do you think is a more important decision?

The next month we get a new pool and pick a new panel.

Now that’s term limits.

Frank Cagle is a political analyst and the editor of Knoxville Magazine . You can reach him at frank@frankcagle.com .