Hawkins commission approves mayor's committees despite bickering

Jeff Bobo • Nov 27, 2019 at 6:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County Mayor Jim Lee’s new committee appointments were approved Monday, but not before a failed attempt to remove his power to appoint committees and an attempt to make it more difficult to take away that power.

With all 21 commissioners in attendance, Lee’s appointments were approved by a vote of 12-7 with two abstentions.

Monday night’s showdown in the Hawkins County Courthouse, which included some heated dialogue between commissioners and the mayor, has been brewing for the past two months.

In September, former commission Chairman Mike Herrell made a motion to remove Lee’s power to appoint committees and give that power to the chairman of the commission, who is now Rick Brewer. That motion failed by a vote of 13-6.

Last month, Lee’s proposed committee appointments, which remove some of his more ardent critics from key positions, received only 10 votes, falling one vote shy of the required 11 to reach a majority of the full commission. There were, however, two commissioners absent.

Lee’s appointments approved Monday remove Herrell from three important committees including the Budget Committee, the Pubic Safety Committee, and the Solid Waste Committee.

A battle over the Rules of Order

Ahead of Lee’s appointments on the agenda was a resolution submitted by Commissioner Charlie Thacker which was identical to Herrell’s September motion — to amend the commission’s Rules of Order to state that the chairman of the commission appoints committees.

Before that resolution could come to the floor, however, Commissioner Mark DeWitte made a motion to amend the rules for changing the Rules of Order.

The commission’s Rules of Order that were approved in 1982 state that all 21 commissioners must vote yes to change those rules, such as changing who appoints committees. However, County Attorney Jim Phillips told the commission he believes only a simple majority, or 11 out of 21 members, is needed.

That’s because CTAS (the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service) told the commission earlier this year that the 100 percent requirement could be contested successfully in Chancery Court.

DeWitte noted, however that CTAS has recommended the commission require a two-thirds vote, or 14 of 21 members, to change the Rules of Order.

Before Thacker’s resolution came to the floor, DeWitte made a motion to require a two-thirds vote to suspend or amend the Rules of Order.

Herrell then made a motion to table DeWitte’s motion until next month “to get more information on it.” That motion was approved 14-7.

Lee keeps his power

Commissioner Nancy Barker compared Thacker’s actions to a child being told “no” by his dad, who then goes and asks permission from his mom.

“We already voted on this once, we voted it down, and we agreed the mayor would make the appointments,” Barker said. “Now I guess because some people didn’t get their way we’re doing the same thing over again.”

Brewer, who would have been tasked to appoint committees if Thacker’s resolution passed, said he would agree to allowing the full commission to vote on the membership of each individual committee.

Commissioner John Metz suggested there’s a good reason that CTAS and Roberts Rules of Order recommended a two-thirds majority for changing rules.

“Obviously there’s an expectation to support the rule of law and avoid complete chaos, and if we can just change what we want to change to suit our particular preference at the moment, and it just takes a simple majority, then Katie bar the door because I’ve got a lot of things gonna come,” Metz said.

Thacker’s resolution spawned more spirited debate, but failed 10-8 with three abstentions.

Following more heated discussion, Lee’s appointments were approved 12-7 with Brewer and Herrell abstaining. Commissioners who voted against Lee’s appointments included Raymond Jesse, Syble Vaughan-Trent, Jeff Barrett, Danny Alvis, Thacker, Hannah Speaks and Donnie Talley.

Speaks and Lee spar

Speaks blamed Lee for the commission’s current turmoil.

Speaks: “If the mayor had stepped up and chaired this commission like he should have, we wouldn’t have had this bickering for a year now.”

Lee: “Explain why I should be.”

Speaks: “We were all on the campaign trail together, and I don’t think there was ever a time when I heard you say you would not be chairing the commission. As it’s stated here (in Thacker’s resolution), the county mayor had always presided as the chairman of the commission.”

Lee: “Had always. Things are different now. They don’t run by your rules.”

Speaks: “(Sarcastically) No, but it’s been going real well.”

Lee: “You don’t make the rules.”

Speaks: “Well, neither do you.”

Biggest losers on the new committees

A full list of the new committees compared to the previous committees can be seen in the online version of this article, as well as a video of the meeting. 

Second-year Commissioner Bob Edens replaces Herrell on all three of the committees Herrell was bumped from (Budget, Public Safety and Solid Waste).

Brewer, who was elected chairman in September, remains on the Budget Committee, but he was removed from the Public Safety Committee and the Parks Committee.

Vaughan-Trent was removed from the Solid Waste Committee in favor of Jessee and from the Personnel Committee in favor of George Bridwell.

Alvis was removed from the Airport Committee and the Parks Committee.