With three vacant alderman seats and the need for a minimum of four candidates to run in next year’s election, Petersburg wants to reduce its board from seven to five members, which requires an amendment to its charter.
A municipal charter is the constitution of the town, the document that brings it into existence and defines its powers. The Town of Petersburg operates as a Private Act Charter rather than a General Law or Home Rule charter.
In June, Jake Bradford resigned from the board after serving just nine months of his four-year term. He was elected during the 2020 August primary, as was Alderman Rita Cowan and Logan Jolly, who was serving as mayor. He had previously been appointed to the board and elected as mayor. The mayor is elected by the aldermen and votes only when there is a tie.
Aldermen Charles Talley, who currently serves as vice mayor, and Randy McDonald were appointed to the board last year following the death of then-Vice Mayor Kenneth Richardson and the resignation of Barbara Woodward. Richardson and Woodward were re-elected to four-year terms in 2018. No one qualified for two open seats in 2018; those have since remained vacant.
The process of amending the charter can’t be done exclusively by the Board of Mayor and Alderman. All charter changes, private act or general law, require the approval of the Tennessee General Assembly and involves several steps.
“We went through the process of reducing that [number] a year or so ago,” said Mayor Logan. “The amendment was written up to take the wrong number of members off in the next election, so we voted it down.”
According to information from the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS), the first step is to determine what charter provisions are to be changed because one change may require amending more than one provision of the charter to ensure the charter is consistent. Therefore, it’s important for elected officials to be very familiar with the charter.
Step 2 involves clearing the proposed change with the state legislative delegation. Step 3 calls for adopting a resolution containing the proposed charter change and then ask a member of the legislative delegation to introduce it in the General Assembly. Because the private act contains the method of local approval – “whether a two-thirds vote of the entire membership of the municipal governing body or a majority vote in a referendum” – it must have the approval of the local legislative delegation.
Next, the resolution should be given to the legislative delegation “within the timeframe” necessary to move it through the General Assembly. After it’s approved by the General Assembly and the governor, the BOMA needs to “make sure that what came out of the General Assembly is what you thought went in.”
Once the board approves the change, that approval has to be sent to the Tennessee secretary of State.
During the Tuesday, Sept. 27 BOMA meeting, Chuck Denham, MTAS Municipal Management Consultant, told the board that while the town’s House and Senate representatives “may grumble a bit” in presenting the charter change, “that’s their responsibility.”
He also recommended the board should “take time to familiarize yourselves with the charter, the powers and duties of the mayor, vice mayor and alderman.” He said they should also separate the responsibilities and duties of elected officials from the staff and know what can and can’t be done.
“The charter should be looked at as the constitution,” Durham said. “It should be followed clearly.”
MTAS was created in 1949 through the University of Tennessee-Knoxville to provide technical assistance to municipal governments within the state in a variety of areas, including training, finance, legal, technical, and municipal management assistance.
Durham recommended that while the board is in the process of changing the charter, “you have the ability to reduce to two the number of readings” for ordinances. Currently, three readings are required.
He also reminded the board to “get this back in the works,” in reference to the charter amendment process.
Durham said it’s important to fill vacancies “so you don’t run the risk of not being able to conduct business.”
Jolly said the charter process could be completed before next year’s election “if we get it under way.”
If this charter amendment is approved, it will be the second charter revision since 2015. Article IV Section 1 removed the residency requirements for the town recorder, police chief and judge.
Under new business in last week’s BOMA meeting, Mayor Jolly said that David Thompson expressed an interest in serving on the board. He told Thompson to get with Police Chief Matt Griffy for a background check.
The Thompsons recently moved to Petersburg from Franklin. He said he had never been involved in politics.
On Wednesday, Jolly said “the requirements are that you be a citizen and registered to vote in local elections. Being a felon makes you ineligible. This gentleman has yet to register to vote in town. It’s easy to do, but he was ineligible last night.”
He also said requiring a background check “that’s my personal rule. Also, with Talley and McDonald, my Vice Mayor Kenneth Richardson had just passed away. I took it upon myself to call the election commission and see that the two of them were registered to vote. I knew they were willing to serve ahead of time.”
The board last met July 19, 2021, for a called meeting. The August meeting wasn’t held due to lack of a forum.
The board will meet in regular session at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 5.