By: Jonathan Pleasant
Thursday nights county commission meeting saw several changes to the face of local government as the board of commissioners made and approved nearly a half dozen appointments to various positions. Most nominations were already made through recommendations by other boards and committees, but the one major exception was an open vote to fill the recently vacated District seven commissioners seat.
Having been posted over the last month, several individuals interested in filling the vacancy until the next election in August were present at the meeting in the hope of being nominated and potentially elected to the seat. The process began with an introduction by County Attorney Bill Cockett, who explained that the commission would need to establish a set of rules to govern the voting process. According to state law, interested candidates must be nominated by a member of the commission and must carry a majority of the overall vote, in this case meaning at least eight supporters.
Because of the potential for numerous candidates, discussion was held for establishing a run off process to eliminate candidates and ultimately determine a majority winner. Further, because of the possibility of a 7-7 tie with 14 members left on the board, it was decided that County Mayor Larry Potter could potentially be the tiebreaker. The vote proved to be less controversial than initially expected, with only three candidates receiving nominations.
Commissioner Lester Dunn was the first to speak up, nominating Ms. Evelyn Hill, a well known former county commissioner who also has extensive experience working with the local health department. Commissioner Jerry Gentry was the next to make a motion, nominating Judicial Commissioner Roger Reece. The final nomination came from Commissioner Mike Taylor, who expressed his support for former Mountain City Mayor Kevin Parsons.
With no further nominations the board moved on to the vote, choosing to identify their support by roll call. Ms. Hill came in with the most support, gaining nine votes from Commissioners Lester Dunn, John Brookshire, Jerry Grindstaff, Huey Long, Jonathan Pleasant, Jimmy Lowe, Jack Proffit, Rick Snyder, and Dean Stout. Reece came in second with four votes from Commissioners Bill Adams, Jerry Gentry, Gina Meade, and Freddy Phipps, while Parsons claimed only one vote coming from Commissioner Mike Taylor.
With a clear majority Hill was consequently sworn in by County Clerk Tammy Fenner before ultimately taking her seat on the board. With this very important appointment out of the way, the now full commission turned their attention to the evenings agenda. Other appointments included recommendations for Kenneth Erickson and Robert Wayne Parker to fill spots on the Johnson County Library Board, along with the appointment of Doug Phillips to the Carderview Utility District board, replacing recently resigned Chairman Raymond Hill.
While each of these positions carried their own importance, possibly the most shocking change addressed during the meeting involved an announcement that longtime Director of Accounts and Budgets, Peggy Horne, would be retiring effective November 29th. Mayor Potter made the announcement, noting that the position had already been posted within the county and that an interested candidate had already come forward.
Hoping to follow a new policy of promoting from within, Potter recommended that Russell Robinson be approved for the position. Potter went on to explain that Robinson is likely the best potential candidate because of his familiarity with the office and his experience handling the accounts for the county school system for the past 16 years. Because of his unique qualifications and the hope for a smooth transition, Robinson received unanimous approval from the commission to assume the job.
According to Mayor Potter, Horne had expressed her desire to retire for some time, initially intending to wait until spring. However Horne decided to go ahead and make her choice earlier so that she would be able to be with her family through the holiday season. With 41 years to her credit Horne has become an irreplaceable part of Johnson County, leading the entire commission to give her a standing ovation following the announcement.
These major changes aside, other business at the meeting included the monthly committee reports, as well as an update on the county airport from Doe Mountain Aviation owner Dave Garris. According to Garris most of the recent improvement projects at the facility are now complete, and talks concerning a potential runway extension are also underway. The one issue that Garris did note was a problem with coyotes destroying the airports runway lights.
Sheriff Mike Reece also made a request to sell a much-used vehicle from his department. With nearly 200,000 miles and a malfunctioning transmission, Reece intends to post the car at auction online. Commissioner Jerry Gentry made the successful motion to accept Reeces request and was seconded by Commissioner Lester Dunn.
The last real business of the night came from a concern posed by Commissioner Jerry Grindstaff relating to legal action taken by the commission when County Attorney Bill Cockett must recuse himself because of a conflict of interest. Although the issue has happened only infrequently in the past, Cockett did admit a policy for such instances would be a good idea, noting that County Mayor Larry Potter does have the ability to hire counsel if the county attorney is unable to advise.
Grindstaffs specific concerns centered around whether or not the commission should or could table items that come before them under these circumstances until counsel is hired. Cockett did confirm that in certain situations it would be better not to act until legally advised and as a result Grindstaff made a motion for the county to take these types of legal situations on a case-by-case basis as they arise and not take action until legal consultation had occurred. Grindstaffs motion passed 14 to 1.
With no further comments from the commission or the audience, Chairman Freddy Phipps entertained a motion to adjourn which was made by Commissioner Dean Stout.