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Commissioners debate motives behind private act recommendation

Whether the recommendation to repeal the private act that created the zoning administrator’s position was politically motivated or good governance was argued during last week’s county commission meeting.
“It’s important to note that a private act allows an exception to general law,” said Commissioner Joe Wise, chair of the Zoning Administrator’s Oversight Committee.
Commissioner Joe Grandy made a motion to approve the resolution to return Washington County to the state’s general law, which establishes the position of county building commissioner and authorizes the county mayor to appoint subject to confirmation of the county legislative body. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Tom Foster.
“I can’t help but think there is a better way to go,” Commissioner Robbie Tester said during the Nov. 24 meeting. “This is being interpreted by many as politically and personally motivated.”
Wise said he would suggest rescinding the private act is a governance issue. “We’re moving it out of the exception to general law and more in line with the majority of the state’s counties.”
Commissioner Danny Edens said he also has heard objections from the public, but people were unsure of which committee meeting to attend.
According to Commissioner Forrest Boreing, the orientation training new commissioners received from the County Technical Assistance Services indicated the current structure could have legal consequences. “If something had happened, there could have been felony charges against the commission,” he said. “We’re not allowed to oversee a public office.”
Commissioner Todd Hensley agreed there was some liability risk, and said repealing the private act would put the commission in line with 90 other Tennessee counties. “The oversight will still be there as governance,” he pointed out.
The legislative branch of county government, represented by the commission, is closest to the people, according to Tester. “Moving it under the executive branch takes away power from the people,” he said.
Wise disagreed. “I would take issue with us being more connected to the people,” he said. “I ran in a small section, while the mayor ran for the whole county.”
Grandy pointed out the commission is ultimately accountable. “It’s an administrative position that eventually comes back to us.”
The two-thirds majority necessary to request the private act be repealed was reached with Commissioners Sam Humphreys, Steve Light and Tester opposed. Commissioner Katie Baker was absent.