Commission committee assignments prompt talk

Friday, September 10, 2010

Marshall County commissioners received their committee assignments on Tuesday when a few observations were made about the distribution of responsibility to 19 committees where most of the decisions are made.

"Not to be critical of the Nominating Committee," Commissioner Mickey King said during the second meeting of the 18-member board, "but I would have liked to see more commissioners with committees. We've got some commissioners with only two assignments."

King is the immediate-past chairman of the Budget Committee, a panel that receives spending recommendations from other committees before they are forwarded to the 18-member commission for final action. King was reassigned to the budget committee by a nominating committee that met during the 90 minutes before the Tuesday night commission meeting.

Newly elected Commissioner Barry Spivey was elected to chair that committee which met Wednesday night and declined to recommend the school budget to the 18-member commission. The committee exercised similar restraint when King led the panel.

Commissioner Don Ledford cast the one vote against ratifying the Nominating Committee's recommendation for committee assignments.

Ledford is the former chairman of the Solid Waste Committee, an important crossroads for resolutions related to circumstances arising from Cedar Ridge Landfill just west of Lewisburg. Waste Management Inc., the owner of the facility, is appealing to the state Solid Waste Disposal Control Board for a reversal of a decision by Jim Fyke, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, to deny a permit for expansion of the landfill.

The Solid Waste Committee has developed a recommendation for a $160 annual solid waste fee for county residents not served by municipalities. It's to be prepared if the landfill can't expand.

Ledford is now assigned to only two committees: County Records and the Buildings Committee.

In contrast, Anna Childress, who's returning to the commission after having served several years ago, was assigned to nine committees: Animal Control, Codes, Education, Emergency Medical Services, Ethics, Delinquent Tax Sales, Economic and Community Development, Solid Waste, and Veterans.

Newly elected Commissioner Sheldon Davis, maintenance chief for the county school system - an office that's now maintaining other county buildings - was also assigned to nine committees: Beer, Budget, Codes, EMS, Industrial Development, Delinquent Tax Sales, Law Enforcement, Veterans, and Solid Waste.

"They didn't even it out," King said Thursday afternoon. "I just totaled them up because I was curious."

Another committee assignment that drew notice was that of Commissioner Mike Waggoner to the Ethics Committee.

Amusing is a "good word" for that assignment, Ledford said.

King agreed.

"With him (Waggoner) having been named in ethics charges and being exonerated, I thought that was sort of hilarious," King said. "And here he will be sitting on the Ethics Committee. Hopefully we won't have any more cases."

If there are no complaints, the committee probably won't meet.

The juxtaposition of Waggoner's experience and his committee assignment is seen by some as a qualification for his membership on the committee since he knows - from his own experience - how the panel works.

Waggoner was a real estate agent for then Commission Chairman Sam Smith who sold to Waste Management an option to purchase farmland near Cornersville where a landfill was proposed to be relief for Cedar Ridge if it could not expand. Smith resigned from the commission to avoid a conflict of interest.

Waggoner and Smith were on the Marshall County Board of Public Utilities together, but those circumstances - and especially the lack of influence over solid waste issues by the utility board - were deemed as unrelated to Smith's land option sale. Waste Management has dropped that location for a landfill.

Asked about committee assignments, Commissioner Rocky Bowden said that Nominating Committeemen received requests from commissioners and tried to grant their preferences. To make the point, Bowden noted that there were only five commissioners who asked to be assigned to a particular committee and another set of five were the only commissioners expressing interest in another committee.

Furthermore, Bowden said, some committees meet only as needed while others have monthly sessions and sometimes more than that.

The committee assignment process is typical for a county commission in Tennessee.

Given the sometimes Byzantine nature of the organizational system, King was asked if there was a "conspiracy" on the assignments, and he replied, "You'd never be able to prove it, but those people on those nine committees - and some of those are really active committees - with a young, new commissioner, they're going to wear them out."