Loudon group seeks home rule

Petition needs 2,500 signatures

Hugh G. Willett-knoxnews.com

A taxpayer’s bill of rights is among the benefits touted by a group of Loudon County citizens who want to change the local government to a home rule charter.

The Loudon County Home Rule Committee has been collecting signatures since February on a petition that would put the question of home rule to the voters in the November election; 2,500 signatures are needed.

Committee leader Wayne Schnell presented his ideas to the county commission earlier this week.

“Citizens want more open government,” Schnell told the commission.

The charter committee, which would be made up of 21 elected citizens, could address issues that are not being addressed by the present county commission and school board, he said.

“The main advantage of home rule is citizen control and greater say on the matters that affect you and your tax dollars,” he said.

Under the proposed “citizens’ bill of rights,” people would be allowed to speak at any public meeting, and all documents on agenda items would be provided to citizens in advance, advocates said. Citizens would also be allowed to participate on all committees.

People would also have the right to vote on any tax increase proposed by the commission, to control the salary of commissioners, to define a nepotism policy and to require job descriptions and minimum requirements for all employees, home rule backers said. Term limits and a recall policy are also included.

Commissioner Don Miller said he has been studying the home rule issue. Knox County and Shelby County are home rule or charter-governed counties; Fentress and Giles counties put home rule referenda on their ballots, but voters rejected the idea.

A charter government is not necessarily as powerful as some might believe, he said.

The two most significant things that a charter government could offer are the ability to enact term limits and to eliminate fee offices, he said.

“In Tennessee, county government is a creature of the state Legislature. A charter government still has to conform to state law,” Miller said.

Miller said a charter government would not give the taxpayers the right to vote on property taxes.

Loudon County attorney Robert Bowman said that at least three state attorney general opinions have confirmed that under state law, county commissions have the sole authority to set property tax rates. Any requirement for a public referendum on tax increases would conflict with the current statute and be invalid, he said.