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BMA opts to appoint vice mayor, addresses other proposed changes in Town’s Charter

While the issue of compensation for the Board of Mayor and Aldermen took center stage at Monday’s BMA meeting, other proposed changes to the Town’s Charter generated a lot of conversation during a public hearing on Feb. 8.
At that meeting, aldermen talked in depth about the idea of having a vice mayor, as well as the issue of town officials and employees running for elected office.
A recommendation for naming a vice mayor came from the Tennessee Municipal Technical Advisory Service. MTAS officials reviewed a draft of the resolution to provide input.
Alderman Mary Gearhart said she did not like being told they have to elect a vice mayor. “We’ve gotten along without one for all these years,” she said.
Town Attorney Jim Wheeler said the BMA has also always been required to work around the mayor’s schedule as a result.
Wheeler said a lot of municipalities are structured like Johnson City, where the public elects the city commission and the commissioners themselves then choose the mayor and vice mayor. However, Jonesborough’s charter has the mayor as a position elected by the public.
“If the mayor is not available, it can restrict action for a month,” Wheeler said. “In some cases, you don’t have the ability to even call a meeting without the mayor.”
Wheeler said having a vice mayor is a way to be prepared.
“When you’re in the situation (absence of the mayor) is not the time to try to figure out what to do,” he said.
Another reason to have a vice mayor in place, according to Wheeler, is to ensure the voting body doesn’t become roadblocked with a split decision.
“You could result in constitutional limbo if you wait until something happens to the mayor and then have four aldermen split in a tie vote,” he said.
Under the proposed charter change, the vice mayor will be selected by the BMA.
Proposed changes regarding running for office make it so that any elected official of the Town of Jonesborough who seeks to run for a Town- or County-elected office or a seat in the Tennessee Legislature shall be required to resign his/her position with the Town prior to qualifying for the election to such position, with the exception of any current elected position they hold with the Town and are seeking re-election for.
Any employees of the Town of Jonesborough who seeks to run for a Town-elected office or a seat in the Tennessee Legislature shall be required to resign their positions with the Town prior to qualifying for the election to such position.
“I don’t think that’s fair at all,” Alderman Jerome Fitzgerald said.
Wheeler said the situation can create problems for the town.
“This may not be in the best interest of the employee, but we were considering the best interest of the town. We need the cooperation of the county and the state legislature,” he said.
If elected to state legislature, the employee could be out of the office four months of the year, Wheeler said.
“We would basically be paying them to be in Nashville,” he added.
Having the person resign before running for office would prevent another awkward situation, says Wheeler.
“Are you going to fire the person if elected, and then turn around and try to get his help for a grant,” he asked. “This has been a disaster for other organizations and municipalities.
“The committee wanted to maintain good relationships, and this is the reason for putting it in,” he said.
Town Administrator Bob Browning said an employee running for office can be a hard situation for other staff members.
“I think employees running for the Town board is a mistake,” he said.
Countermine pointed out concern for an employee who resigns to run for office, loses the election, and then doesn’t have a job to return to.
Both issues were a part of Monday’s BMA vote to accept the changes to the charter.
Mayor Kelly Wolfe cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of accepting the changes.