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Knox County Charter Amendments in Plain English October 29, 2008 12:12 pm

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Local Politics, Politics, Touchy Subjects
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Upon examining the sample ballot from the General Election in Knox County, TN November 4, 2008, I found the questions of the Charter Amendments confusing. So I emailed the Election Commission and learned that they are not allowed to comment on the ballots. However, the County Law Director’s Office writes the questions so I called and spoke to a very kind and informative lawyer at the County Law Director’s Office. He also pointed me to today’s Knoxnews Editorial (which says vote yes to 3 and 4. I disagree.). The following is my interpretation of the Chart Amendment questions based upon his answers to my questions. Please see this earlier post or the sample ballot for the actual questions.


First we discussed the Liquor Referendum. There are not overreaching implications of this question. Either we want to be able to have liquor by the drink served in bars and restaurants in the county, just like we do in the city, or we don’t. It’s a very straight forward question.


This is a housekeeping amendment to bring our county into conformance with state law. In short, the amendment says, "Amendments can be added to the ballot."


This is also a housekeeping amendment. Apparently the current charter does not explicitly state how the composition of a Charter Review Committee (that is, who makes up the committee). I looked for the actual wording in the current charter but Google is failing me at the moment. So, as a matter of housekeeping, this question adds to the charter language that says:

a Charter Review Committee is "composed of 27 members with 1 member of the County Commission from each commission district to be nominated by the Commission, 9 non-commission members who are registered Knox County voters nominated by the Commission and 9 noncommission members who are registered Knox County voters nominated by the Knox County Mayor."

There is no hidden agenda or far overreaching implication.


This question is actually two unrelated questions in one. The first half of the question is asking do we reduce the number of county commissioners from 19 to 11. Each commission district would be reduced from 2 representatives to 1. And 2 at-large commissioners who would serve county wide and not be bound to district. This is similar to the way the city government works. So if you feel the city’s representation of the people is effective, then that part of the question is a YES vote. If you feel the city’s government is ineffective, then that half of the question is a NO vote.

The second half of the question regards a nepotism policy which obviously prohibits family from supervising or influencing employment of a relative. It also says that no person drawing a paycheck from Knox County would be able to serve as a commissioner. For example, a Knox County school teacher could not also be a Knox County Commissioner.

This is a tough question simply because the first half has to weigh between less overhead in our county government versus less representation. And the second half has to do with eliminating the good ol’ boy network in our county government (again, my interpretation, not the County Law Director’s Office). However, you cannot vote NO to half and YES to the other half. Your vote is either FOR or AGAINST.


Right now, the positions of County Trustee, County Clerk, Register of Deeds and County Law Director are all elected positions. If you live in the county, you get to vote for the people who hold those positions. This question proposes that those four positions will no longer be elected. Instead the Mayor will appoint those positions.

That’s it. To review and my recommendations:

  1. (YES) Housekeeping
  2. (YES) Housekeeping
  3. (NO) Two unrelated questions: a) reduce the number of commissioners b) Instate a nepotism policy
  4. (NO) Change 4 elected positions to positions appointed by the Mayor

Comments after advertisement


1. Number9 - October 29, 2008


Has the timeline and both Charter Amendments explained.

2. Doug McCaughan - October 29, 2008

Thanks for posting that again. I meant to include it and the other related sites and forgot.

3. Barry - October 30, 2008

To me, #3 and #4 are no-brainer “Yes”‘s.

I agree that the unrelatedness of the two parts of #3 are a problem, but I happen to agree with them both and don’t think you should reject the question out of hand because you don’t like the way it’s constructed.

That said – reducing the # of commissioners reduces the likelihood of the # of people on the board who might tend to disrupt good flow of progress. It only takes a couple to slow down a process or to embarrass the county. Witness all that have happened with “Lumpy” and “Scooby” – will they be remembered for their good leadership or the press for their wild personalities? A commission of 19 gives a much better chance for 3-5 people like that, than a commission of 11. There are always going to be more helpful than unhelpful people, but sometimes there’s a tipping point where the press for the bad outweighs the good. I also believe having two possibly conflicting views in one district, while maybe making good exploration of issues, at this time in our history is not for the best. So one voice per district is a good idea.

The nepotism provision I believe is a good step to slice off that ugly side of local politics. While I don’t, in principle, believe school-teachers and other non-political county employees should necessarily be prevented from holding county office I think the door should be open for reinstating those positions as eligible in the future. But it’s not a deal-breaker – it’s an egg you break that later can be made back into an omelet. Ok, that was an odd analogy.

As for #4, I’ve help the position for a long, long, long time that those county offices had no business being elected positions. None of them are necessary for the electorate to have to decide on any more than us voting on who is the principal of the local high school or who runs the Knox County IT department. Let the Mayor do due diligence on the best qualified people for the job, hire/appoint them, let the Commission approve, and be done with it. They are skill positions, not leadership/decision-making positions that require the people’s will be answered. Register the Deeds, Clerk the County, Trustee and Law Direct us – we don’t have any business deciding ourselves who’s qualified or not qualified for those positions any more than the electorate has the wisdom to decide whether I’m qualified for my job.

4. Doug McCaughan - October 30, 2008

I find it interesting that Lisa Starbuck, one of the original people helping draft the amendments, now advocates voting no to the amendments. I think that says a lot about the amendments and is probably reason enough to vote no to at least 3 and 4 if may not all 4 amendments.

5. Barry - October 30, 2008

Again, she swung her vote on a procedural issue. The fact two (semi-) unrelated issues are in the same question. I’m in favor of both halves, so it doesn’t bother me to support it.

I can see someone who doesn’t support one half and does support the other deciding to vote NO but only for that reason. Not just because it’s worded awkwardly.

We have enough trouble in this county to worry about semantics when progress is on the table. I don’t really accept that as an excuse to note vote for it.

And I still don’t see the reasoning behind your NO on #4…

6. Doug McCaughan - October 30, 2008

For me, #4 is a potential abuse of power. I am considering your statement that “They are skill positions, not leadership/decision-making positions.” I get irritated at the good ol’ boy network in Knoxville and for the mayor to be able to appoint the positions unchecked by the public worries me. Yes, the Commission would have to approve the positions but the way our City/County governments work, that’s not saying much. My mind keeps going back to the hearings where developers are shaking hands and being buddy buddy with the officials who are laughing and sharing stories then at the snap of their fingers the officials turn their glare to the citizens and their demeanor changes to stern as everyone seats themselves. Its like development hearings are a facade and I don’t want that same practice seeping into our county government.

7. Barry - October 30, 2008

What’s so special about all those positions that the public has to be the ones to directly choose the people to fill them.

And relatedly, what’s so inherently fragile about those positions that the chance of nepotistic appointments and approvals could so seriously damage their capability to do a good job?

Sounds like that could just as easily apply to any other hired/appointed position in the county. I think it’s up to the public to elect honest people to the posts we do elect, and if they screw up and start appointing their cronies that break the law, throw business to their friends, etc then we have to at least partly blame ourselves for not electing the most dependable people.

8. Cathy - October 30, 2008

Teachers shouldn’t be denied the right to be a part of local government. They are uniquely qualified. Why would I say okay to a rule and hope that it can later be changed instead of saying no, this needs to be rewritten?

9. Number9 - October 30, 2008

Barry, there is a clause in Amendment 4 where the County Mayor can fire the law director and fee offices without cause. That is flat wrong.

You should vote against Charter Amendment 4 if only for that reason.

You should vote against Charter Amendment 3 because it is so unfair to the people in District One.

Why does this have to be done now in such a convoluted way? Let’s do it right in 2010.

10. Morgan - October 30, 2008


Here’s some more opinion on this if anybody cares, lol.

11. Doug McCaughan - October 30, 2008

As you read these opinion pieces, do remember that the Metro Pulse is owned by the News Sentinel and the Sentinel wrote a pro Amendment editorial encouraging yes to 3 and 4. The News Sentinel is far from unbiased when it comes to local and national politics and it feels very much like they have a particular agenda. I don’t know if Jack Neely writes for himself in such a piece or if he writes what he is told. My point, use your mind, study the issues (all sides), and make an informed decision. Don’t let my NO recommendations be your vote. Don’t let Neely’s YES recommendations be your vote. Make your own vote!

12. Barry - October 30, 2008

Number 9, you going to explain any of those positions that seem (to you) to be so blatantly obvious?

Cathy, I’d rather teachers concentrate on teaching our children than also trying to represent their communities in political arenas. You should say ok to the rule because it’s the right thing to do.

13. Number9 - October 31, 2008

Number 9, you going to explain any of those positions that seem (to you) to be so blatantly obvious?

Amendment 3: Why lose half your representation? Why create at large offices that will only be won out West? Why have to bill for a civil rights law suit for reducing minority representation? Does anyone really believe at larger Commissioners care about other Districts? Why would anyone spend $100,000 for a job that pays $20,000 a year? Wouldn’t the at large seat be a full time job?

Amendment 4: The voter has the power, why give it to the Mayor? Why create a Mayor King? This is begging for a law suit to test the Jordan ruling, which is crap, and you have to pay the legal bills. What is the point? Why give up your right to vote?

It is blatantly obvious, to most. Barry, why not explain why it isn’t obvious to you?