Changing Government?

At least one County resident is ready to form a new government for Loudon County, and he has state law on his side.

On his web site, Loudon Home Rule, Loudon County resident Wayne Schnell is proposing to establish a Charter form of government and is circulating petitions to get 2,500 signatures to begin the process. There may be other members of the Home Rule organization but Mr. Schnell's is the only name associated with the web site.

Schnell, who lives in the sixth district, has attended some County Commission and School Board meetings, usually to raise concerns about particular issues. He is also a board member of the local Tea Party organization, Cross County Patriots. This is not Mr. Schnell's first petition drive; back in 2011, Schnell and a couple of others started a petition drive to essentially stop the building of a new school in Greenback.

State law allows for the process of changing to a Charter form of government, but the process is long and complicated. The first step in the process is to gain the needed petition signatures. While the petition is calling for 2,500, the fact is he only needs around 1,500 to comply with the legal requirements.

If and when the needed signatures are received and certified by the election commission, an election would be held to elect members to a Charter Commission. Schnell's petition is calling for a 21-member commission, three members from each county legislative district. After those 21 Charter commissioners are elected, the Charter Commission would then develop their proposal for the way county government would operate in many instances.

Schnell's web site lays out at least some of the changes he hopes to accomplish in what he calls the "TAXPAYER’S (CITIZEN’S) BILL OF RIGHTS," [all sic’d]:

I. Citizens shall be allowed to speak at any public meeting at the beginning of the meeting on agenda items and all documents on agenda items will be provided to citizens on line and in the newspaper at least 5 business days prior to any meeting. Citizens shall be allowed to speak on any issue at the end of the meeting. All minutes will be posted within 5 business days after the meeting and include all citizen comments.

II. Citizens shall have the right to vote on any tax increase proposed by the commission, in this way the commission must explain to the voters why this proposed tax increase is needed.

III. Citizens shall control the salary of commissioners, define a nepotism policy, require job descriptions and minimum requirements for all employees, and annual review of their performance by their supervisor.

IV. Citizens shall have the right to a greater say in what happens in local policy, short and long term planning and operation of county government.

V. Citizens shall have the right to define term limits and a recall policy for those individual(s) on all commissions and boards.

VI. Citizens shall have the right to control the growth of County Government and know where taxpayer money is spent. There shall be an online check register that lists all money spent by all county offices.

VII. Citizens need the right to have adequate notice when a job in the county becomes available by making sure all citizens are informed a minimum 7 business days prior to convening a hiring panel. Loudon residents and veterans should get some priority in hiring.

VIII. Citizens shall have the right to be represented on all committees.

IX. Citizens have the right to expect their board or commissioner(s) to abstain from discussion and voting on items where there is a perceived or actual conflict of interest.

X. Citizens shall have the right to expect all county business is conducted in an open manner as defined by the “Sunshine Laws”, “Freedom of Information Request” and not in backroom deals where decisions are made outside of public eyes.

After the Charter Commission develops their recommendations for the Charter form of government, the proposal would go to the voters for an up or down vote. On Schnell's web site, he states that he hopes to have a vote to elect the 21 members to the Charter Commission on the August, 2014 election. That means the actual vote on the proposed changes wouldn't come before the 2016 election cycle.

If the Charter Commission is approved by the voters, the County Commission is required to provide funding for the Charter Commission up to $50,000.00

On its face, the idea of changing the style of  local government would seem to have a certain appeal, but change just for the sake of change isn't always a good idea. We're living with one form of hope and change now, and that's been a disaster.

County commissioners will discuss the matter with CTAS representatives at their March 4th commission meeting.

We'll watch as this story develops and see if this is really an attempt to make positive change or if this is just some folks with an ax to grind.

I'll keep you posted.