Claiborne County to vote on downsizing commission seats

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TAZEWELL, Tenn. (WATE) — Claiborne County commissioners will vote Monday night whether to downsize the number of elected officials sitting on the commission.

According to Resolution 2020-024, if passed, the number of commissioners would decrease from 21 to 11; one commissioner per district plus two at-large commissioners.

If passed, county residents in 2022 would vote for 11 new commissioners; commission seats 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 would have a 6-year term for the initial term, then four-year terms afterward; seats 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 would start with four-year terms.

The pay for the commissioners would not change.

Commissioners Nathan Epperson and Whitt Shuford, the two commissioners who proposed the resolution, said they wanted to propose the resolution because their constituents had been asking for a smaller commission.

In the resolution, it states that there was a growing desire among residents who believed that 21 commissioners was outdated, inefficient and costly.

Epperson said the county would end up saving about $60,000 a year by simply cutting the commission by half.

Shuford said that last year, the county voted to limit the number of committees each commissioner can sit on.

He said prior to that vote, some commissioners were making $1,000 a month.

“The reduction will come from 9 fewer commissioners sitting here and a straight salary across the board to each commissioners, so there’ll be no extra pay for committee meetings, board meetings, or anything else,” Shuford said.

Both Epperson and Shuford said that it was after the most recent election that they knew county residents wanted a change.

According to the commissioners, it was the first election in a long time when seven new commissioners were voted into office.

Some commissioners have been on the commission for 30 years.

“The county proved to us through that election that they did want a change. They wanted to see things different, that we kept doing the same things over and over the same way and we still keep getting the same outcome,” Epperson said.

They wanted to bring the vote to the commission before residents voted on the Home Rule Charter in August.

The Home Rule Charter is similar in that, if passed via ballot, the commission size would decrease to 11 seats.

The charter uproots nearly the entire Claiborne County government and creates more rules, such as a current county employee cannot be a county commissioner.

The charter would also give commissioners a slight pay increase.

According to the charter, the annual salary of each commissioner shall be a sum equal to 5% of the minimum annual salary listed for the County Mayor.

The charter vote will be on the August ballot.

Shuford said their resolution passes tonight, it would take effect even if the charter doesn’t pass in August.

Rick Jernigan, a resident of Claiborne County, said he thinks the resolution is a step in the right direction, but he believes the charter would be a better vote.

“We’re going to put it to one person that’s responsible. Now, how can you hold three people responsible? You can’t. And then you really have no clear winner in that district. This one may get more votes than the other two, but they’re all three winners,” Jernigan said.

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