The County Commission held its monthly meeting on July 12 at the McNairy County Justice Complex. A controversial resolution to elect the McNairy County Director of Schools drew a crowd and led to debate amongst the commissioners.
Mayor Smith presented the resolution to modify the position of McNairy County Superintendent from an appointed to an elected office. According to Smith, on June 14, four members of the Resolution Committee requested a meeting in which to deliberate the aforementioned resolution. Following a 5–1 vote of approval on June 29, the resolution was drafted.
Smith reminded the committee that it “has the ability to amend, table, discuss, pass or not pass” the resolution. A passing vote does not immediately alter the Directorship or guarantee approval of the resolution by legislators during next year’s session.
Similar resolutions were sent to state legislators in 1996 and 1999. Copies of these resolutions were included in commissioners’ packets.
Candy Garrison, Chairman of the Resolution Committee, stated for the record that she was not made aware of the agenda for the meeting in her update to commissioners. Garrison made a motion to approve the resolution on behalf of the committee.
Garrison shared research on the Education Improvement Act of 1992. According to Garrison, McNairy County was one of 77 counties involved in a lawsuit seeking equity in funding for schools. The package of legislation that made the Directorship an appointed position, Garrison explained, was a small part of a larger bill that required increased funding, planning time for teachers, new supplies, updated textbooks and art and music teachers.
“What I want you to understand is that, as a previous school teacher of many years, I previously spent my own money on supplies in the classroom, and this piece of legislation was something that the legislative body put a lot of time and effort into,” elaborated Garrison. As revising a portion of a bill frequently leads to changes across the entire bill, she predicted that it might disservice educators to undo beneficial legislation.
Mayor Smith stated that there was already a couple of bills at the state level that have not passed. According to Senator Page Walley, House Bill 1228/Senate Bill 1010 are currently before the Legislature and if passed would do what the Resolution Committee is proposing. HB 1228 did not pass the House Education Committee yet and was deferred to a Summer Study Committee in the House. The companion bill SB 1010 has not been acted upon yet by the Senate Education Committee. The House Summer Study Committee will give the legislators an indication of the level of support. If passed in the Legislature next session, McNairy County could have a vote by the Commission and assuming it passed, hold a referendum as outlined in the bill to decide, explained Walley.
Garrison believes that part of the reason that the legislators made the position an appointed one was to take the position out of the political realm. Garrison felt that part of the problem is a lack of communication between the commissioners and the board of education.
“We need an open and reasonable dialogue, and after that, an educated decision can be made,” Garrison declared.
Over eight commissioners shared their thoughts on the issue.
Commissioner David McCullar relayed that passing the resolution at the commission level and sending it to legislators does not mean it will change the process. It would come back before the commission, which would determine a course forward.
“The individual that has control over the county’s largest budget, $34 million, and largest workforce, I think, needs more oversight, and so do many people in the county. Even one school board member in my district believes it should be an elected position. Out of a seven-member school board, all it takes is four of them to determine who is director of schools. All the director has to worry about is keeping four board members happy and satisfied,” argued Commissioner Keith Jernigan.
Commissioner Richard Ashe felt that the residents were not given an option when the state made the change; he favored a process in which people had a more potent voice.
Commissioner Michelle Kientz pointed out that changing from an appointed to an elected position for the superintendent would increase his or her salary from $20,000 to $30,000.
Kientz highlighted the fact that school board members are elected.
“If we are not satisfied by them, vote them out. That is the process,” Kientz added.
Kientz related that the commission had not yet held a meeting of the Education Committee under the current administration; furthermore, she continued, they have not attended a school board meeting as a group and have yet to ask the director of schools to sit down with them.
“We have questions, but who better to answer than an educator?” asked Kientz.
Commissioner Kerry Brown was in favor of changing the process from an appointed to an elected process on behalf of the majority of his district’s residents.
“I had more calls on this issue than anything else, and they elected me to represent them,” said Brown.
Commissioner Brenda Cauley stated that she was in favor of an elected process because residents desire a voice in it.
Commissioner Brad Hunt discussed both options.
“If the position changes from appointed to elected, the power of the school board members would be taken away...If we go back to an elected position, the voters of McNairy County could choose, which I am in favor of,” said Hunt.
“As a Republican, I would lean towards an ‘R’ rather than a ‘D,’ because that is what I am going to do. And in the event someone is running for Director, and I want my wife to have a good job, I will probably make a contribution to that campaign. Whether we realize it or not, we do that to our elected officials. That is my negative about changing it to an elected process,” said Hunt.
Hunt said he could not tell how he felt. On the one hand, he was not for appointed, as he did not like someone hired based on four votes; on the other hand, he did not want someone to get hired because a family member made a contribution to to a candidate.
“It is a power struggle between our body and the school board. The struggle is we are a legislative body with a $7 million budget and their body has a $34 million budget. They are not going to answer to us, and we aren’t going to answer to them. It’s not how we elect or hire a director of schools. The citizens of McNairy County need to demand that we work together. I am not opposed to an elected director and am not against an appointed director, but there is a reason Nashville won’t let us elect one,” said Hunt.
“There is a reason that bills are before state leaders: maybe they realized they made a mistake,” said Jernigan. “They took away our right to vote,” added Cauley.
“I am just concerned that we are going to introduce politics into the process, and I just do not believe that this is what we need. We just came through a pandemic, and I believe that Mr. Martin and the school board did a good job,” expressed Commissioner Phillip Hollingsworth.
“I believe we have a good school board, and I want to make it clear that we are not questioning them, regardless of how the vote goes. This has nothing to do with them,” said Commissioner Jimmy Ray.
The commission voted 11–4, with two abstaining, to approve the resolution.
Before the meeting proper, County Mayor Larry Smith reminded the commission of McNairy County’s 198th anniversary on October 8. He reviewed current plans for the celebration, which will include an Emergency Awareness event and a groundbreaking of the forthcoming Agricultural Event Center.
Smith concluded his pre-meeting notes with the announcement that the building planned for McNairy Regional Hospital’s former site will enter, and possibly conclude, construction within the next one to two weeks.
Records Commission chairman Mike Smith opened the meeting proper by reviewing highlights from the Records Commission meeting on June 24. He offered his condolences for the recent loss of Nancy Kennedy before announcing Margaret Tull as the new County Archivist. Her duty will be to maintain any record, including school, sheriff, works, or court, deemed relevant for preservation which the board approved.
Mayor Smith offered for approval a contract with Southwest Human Resource Agency to provide probation supervision and life skill services. These services include anger and financial management classes, alcohol/drug assessment, drug screening, community service assistance, rehabilitation placement and a DUI school. A motion to approve the contract carried.
Discrepancies arose over the non-profit budget resolution. Southwest Human Resource Agency appropriations appear as $3,389.75 in the resolution but as $2,711.83 in the amounts approved by the Budget Committee–a $677.92 difference. The issue was tabled for later discussion.
Solid Waste Director Steve Beavers brought a contract for planning and reporting services from Southwest Tennessee Development District before the commission. A motion to approve the agreement and compensate SWTDD $4,300 for their services carried.
Commissioner Jay Weatherford motioned to approve the cleaning, sealing and striping of the Selmer Justice Complex by Redmon Asphalt Inc. The bid totals $17,400 for the full project with board approval.
Weatherford successfully motioned to approve a lease agreement with Southwest Human Resource Agency for the use of office space at 701 Industrial Park Road in Selmer. A monthly lease of $2,000 will be deposited into the general fund.
National flood insurance can insure the Annex building at 530 Mulberry Avenue in Selmer for $32,487 per year; Lloyds of London can insure the main office building for $4,768.41 per month and the Food Services building for $934.75 per year. The Building Committee approved Lloyds of London’s quote, and the full committee carried the motion.
Design services for the Agricultural Event Center will total $55,500; expenses, paid in part by the ThreeStar Grant, will include heating, air conditioning, interior and site lighting, plumbing, utilities and fire protection. The Building Committee approved Long and Associates to provide design services, and the full committee carried the motion.
Weatherford presented details about a roof project for the old armory building. The roof will be removed, and new decking will be placed along the back; bids, budget estimates, grant opportunities and possible uses or replacements for the building are under consideration. In late July or August, a meeting will be held in the mayor’s office to discuss the project and details of ownership concerning the property and gas tanks belonging to the Department of Defense.
The Adult Entertainment Committee approved two applications for changes of ownership on beer licenses at the Rooster Run and Pig Pen Tavern. Jimmy Ray motioned to pass the approval; Richard Ashe seconded, and the motion carried.