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Commission nixes Charter money, votes down funds transfer

The Claiborne County Commission chose by a vote of 19 to 2 not to adopt a resolution that would have transferred $50,000 in reserves to a new budget line item for use by the Claiborne Charter Commission. Earmarked in 2018 to be used for educational purposes, part of the money would have gone to mailing postcards to every registered voter in the county.
Each postcard would list ten bullet points, stating the highlights of the proposed 80 page Home Rule Charter document.
Commissioner Carolyn Brooks questioned the extra expense. Brooks said the full Home Rule Charter is set to be published in the Claiborne Progress at a cost of some $3,000. Those funds will come from the Claiborne Election Commission budget.
Commissioner Kim Large broached the use of the money. Large said the $50,000, by law, was not to be used for “promotional purposes.”
County attorney James Estep III was asked about possible ramifications if the commission did not transfer the money.
“There’s possible litigation – that a court order could prevail if you don’t provide the funds,” said Estep.
Commissioner Brooks referred to a handout containing copies of invoices, receipts and other documentation showing that the Charter Commission had spent $1,387.51 last year – apparently, without prior authorization of the county commission.
There were no purchase orders issued by the Finance Department. The invoices were paid without authorized signatures as prescribed in TCA 5-1-207 (a). Nor were there any funds appropriated for Charter Commission use in Fiscal Year 2018-19, according to the handout.
East Tennessee Appellate Litigation billed the county an adjusted $750.75 for a legal review of the Home Rule Charter.
Another bill, totaling $636.76, was apparently paid to FedEx Office in Knoxville for 50 copies of the final Charter draft.
An Analysis from the Claiborne Finance Department shows that the county paid the invoices on June 26 and June 28 from the 101 General (undesignated) Fund balance.
The handout shows that Charter Commission chairperson Susan Leo, who had made the initial FedEx purchase, was handed back the original store receipt so that the $58.89 in taxes could be refunded.
During the discussion, commissioner Large suggested having the Charter Commission run a small ad in the paper directing the public to where the full Charter can be read.
Commissioner Sherry McCreary Neal suggested using the postcard method to inform the public of its ability to fully access the Charter via website and newspaper.
Large questioned why it took this long to “educate the public” on the document. She asked why this was not handled last year, when the final version of the Home Rule Charter was completed.
Charter Commission member Jerry Ware asked to speak.
“We weren’t planning to spend any money and then COVID hit. We had lined up schools to hold Town Hall meetings in May and June. Of course, that went by the wayside. We decided to print the highlights of the Charter and mail them out,” said Ware.
Later in the discussion, the county attorney said the Charter Commission had the right to send out educational materials.
Commissioner Juanita Honeycutt agreed, adding that the educational materials must be taken straight from the Charter as written.
“It can’t be some bullet points that they have – this is somebody’s opinion on all of it,” said Honeycutt.
Commissioner Whitt Shuford asked Ware what portion of the $50,000 would be needed to accomplish their educational goals.
Ware said everything could be done for $7,000 to $10,000. He agreed that any leftover funds would be returned to the county.
The commissioners again spoke about possible litigation if the money was not designated in the budget for use by the Charter Commission.
County Mayor Joe Brooks said he had spoken with Estep about the situation.
“If they (the county commission) table it or decide not to do it, can they go ahead and send the (postcards) out and the county reimburse,” said Mayor Brooks.
Estep agreed that it could be done. He said it could result in a lawsuit requesting an injunction.
Audience member Don Bryant asked why it was not sufficient that the Charter be published in the newspaper. Why duplicate the effort, he said.
Ware responded that the Charter Commission “does not answer to the Election Commission.”
Just prior to the call of the vote, audience member Wayne Lee asked why the county was considering giving the funds to the Charter Commission so near the beginning of the new fiscal year.
“You give them $10,000 tonight – it’s over with in two weeks. You don’t have a budget for July. They can’t spend anything in July. They won’t have any money,” said Lee.
In a roll call vote, the commission overwhelmingly defeated the resolution. Commissioners Whitt Shuford and Charlton Vass were the only two to vote in favor of creating a line item for the $50,000 transfer of funds.