Commission has new chairman

Friday, September 9, 2011

Electing a new chairman took two votes Monday when Mike Waggoner was elected after one vote was changed. He succeeds Tom Sumners who finalized the decision with a rap of the gavel Monday night during a called meeting to adopt this year's budget and tax rate.

"I'm humbled by the vote," Waggoner said after applause subsided. Waggoner requested the acclamation for Sumners after complimenting his predecessor for doing "an excellent job" of leading the commission since the August 2010 election. That race brought a host of new faces to the panel.

Sumners and Waggoner jockeyed for position in the weeks leading up to the vote as background politics - some might call it inside baseball - became evident. Close observers realized Waggoner went to the meeting confident of victory.

However, Commissioners Seth Warf and Jeff Taylor were absent that night, and Commissioner Don Ledford abstained, thereby throwing a curve ball into the mixed vote that first saw Waggoner receiving nine votes to Sumners' six. While that was a majority of those present and voting, it was not a majority of the 18-member commission.

Sumners called the results as 9-6 for Waggoner who spoke up: "Point of order. I think we need 10 votes."

The second vote saw Commissioner Nathan Johnson change his vote to Waggoner, thereby changing the total to 10-5 with one abstention.

Sumners came to realize later than Johnson sought to prevent a continued stalemate.

"It's the toughest thing I had to do," Johnson said when asked immediately after the meeting why he changed. "No particular reason... I don't have nothing against Tom, he's a friend of mine ... a family friend."

Sumners had officiated at the funeral for one of Johnson's relatives.

"Mike would do a good job," Johnson said. "Let different ones do it."

It became clear last weekend that commissioners - those who were solicited for votes in the chairman's race - had been asked to support a system to rotate the chairmanship.

"You know you're going to have people ask," Commissioner Reynelle Peacock-Smith said before the meeting.

Commissioner Mickey King concurred.

"I understand that's going around," he said when asked about vote solicitation and a rotation. "It doesn't matter to me," King said of rotating chairmen.

Commissioner Kevin Vanhooser explained, "I've talked to a couple of the guys. Normally try to have my mind made up before I get here."

Under the open meetings law, commissioners are to refrain from deliberating toward a vote when they are not in a public meeting. It's a law adopted by the Tennessee General Assembly that's modeled after the open meetings law in Florida. Maryland, Georgia and other states have similar statutes.

Commissioner Rocky Bowden was asked before the meeting if he thought that those nominated for chairman should make remarks about why they should be chairman.

"I don't think they will," Bowden replied. "They could if they wanted to. I've never really heard of those doing it in the past, but it would be appropriate for them to do that.'

Bowden was nominated by Commissioner Sheldon Davis to serve as chairman pro tem, a position that is comparable to vice chairman. The title harks back to the days when the county mayor's title was county judge.

Commissioner Anna Childress called for nominations to cease so Bowden could be elected by acclamation and both steps were taken on a voice vote as Waggoner presided.

Comments before the meeting about rotating chairmen also came from Ledford and Commissioner Phil Willis.

"The way we've been doing it is probably best," Willis said. Asked whether there had been rotation as long as he was aware, the experienced commissioner replied, "No."

Ledford said, "It depends on the chairman" on whether he would advocate change.

Had there been a campaign for chairman? "Not that I'm aware," Ledford replied.