Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

October 11, 2013

Council approves charter changes including one heading to referendum

By Jim Young
Chronicle correspondent

CROSSVILLE — Several changes to the Crossville charter were approved by the Crossville City Council at their regular October meeting, including one councilman's proposal that will end up as a referendum on the ballot next year letting the public decide on setting term limits for the offices of mayor and council.

A three-member committee has studied the city's charter for the last several months and looked at changes in state law and how it affected the city's private act charter. That committee presented 19 pages of recommended changes that were described as “housecleaning measures” to meet changes in current state law and hopefully help the charter keep up with future changes better. Council members had no trouble with these changes for the most part though one was questioned by Councilman Jesse Kerley concerning the authority of the city manager and the mayor to sign contracts up to $5000 without council approval. 

All of the charter changes proposed by the committee were approved by the council, most of those unanimously. Kerley asked that the section he questioned be voted on separately and it passed with three aye votes and Councilmen Souza and Kerley voting no.

These changes will be forwarded to state Senator Charlotte Burks and Representative Cameron Sexton for approval by the Tennessee General Assembly and once approved will return to the city council for a second vote. If approved by a super majority, two thirds vote, they would become part of the charter.  

Souza had two additional changes to the charter he proposed. One change was approved by a majority of the council pending approval by the general assembly and a city wide referendum but the other change failed to get enough council votes for approval.

Heading for a referendum in November 2014 is a proposal to set term limits of two consecutive four-year terms for council seats and the office of mayor. A council member could serve two terms and then serve two more terms as mayor under the the changes proposed by Souza. 

Several council members expressed concern that the proposal took away the public's right to vote for the candidate they choose, but felt it was OK if the public made the decision. The motion for the change was approved with four votes in favor and only Councilman George Marlow opposed.   

Souza also proposed removing any limits on the value of property necessary to allow county residents who are city property owners to vote in the city election. Currently residential property must be worth $20,000 with a $5,000 taxable value to allow an owner to vote. Souza felt that any value limit should be removed. State law allows no more than two owners to vote based on ownership of any piece of property so that could not be changed according to Souza. 

At the council's recent work session, charter committee member Lanny Colvard explained that property based voting was not a right and the city of Chattanooga lost a lawsuit over property owners voting a number of years ago. Colvard, who previously served as Crossville city attorney, said Crossville set minimum property values because of that lawsuit. Colvard added that the decision of the council would determine how much they want to dilute the voting power of actual city residents.

The proposal was made by councilman Souza and seconded by councilman Jesse Kerley who said he was “all for it.” Mayor pro-tem Danny Wyatt passed on the first round of voting with Souza and Kerley in favor and Mayor J. H. Graham and Marlow opposed. Wyatt cast his vote against the motion saying he was concerned about the vote dilution. 

Kerley then stated that he felt the section allowing voting based on property ownership should be removed from the charter entirely but no such action was taken.

Souza stated that he appreciated and respects the council members vote on the matter.

Martin Elementary School second-grader Isaac Smith was recognized as the student of the month for the character trait of responsibility. Isaac was described as being responsible “for his learning and works very hard in school and beyond." Isaac is the son of Jerry and Teresa Smith.