THE HUNTER REPORT
IN THE NEWS
By Hugh G. Willett
Monday, July 16, 2012
It might seem like déjà vu all over again for Lenoir City voters who notice that two initiatives on the Aug. 2 ballot look familiar.
Both of the proposals involve changes to the town's charter and both were defeated at the ballot four years ago, one by a wide margin the other by only a few votes.
The first initiative asks voters to amend the town charter so that the City Recorder/Treasurer is changed from a popularly elected position with a four-year term to a position appointed and approved by the City Council.
The initiative was soundly defeated four years ago, opening the door for Bobby Johnson Jr. to win the election. Johnson later resigned because of stress associated with the job.
If the initiative passes, there will be no election for a new Recorder/Treasurer in November, said Loudon County Election Commissioner Susan Harrison.
According to Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens, the Recorder/Treasurer initiative has been endorsed by the Loudon County Chamber of Commerce and the Committee of 100, a local business organization.
"This is a very important job. The Recorder/Treasurer oversees an $8.5 million budget," Aikens said.
Since Johnson's departure, the temporarily appointed Recorder/Treasurer, Jimmy Wilburn, has been doing an outstanding job, Aikens said. Wilburn has indicated he will accept a permanent appointment, he said.
"We've had no issues with the audit and he works well with the city council," Aikens said.
The proposal to change the Recorder/Treasurer from an elected to an appointed position has been controversial.
The previous effort to change the position came after the resignation in 2007 of long time Recorder/Treasurer Debbie Cook. Cook said she was forced to resign because of harassment from others in town government who wanted to control the position.
Cook said that she believes appointing a Recorder/Treasurer might be the best option if the proper person is appointed. She said she believes Wilburn has done a good job since being appointed. The election process doesn't necessarily guarantee that a qualified person will be on the ballot she said.
One person hoping the issue goes to the ballot is Randall Brown. So far, Brown is the only declared candidate for the Recorder/Treasurer position in the November election. Should the initiative pass, there will be no election for Recorder/Treasurer on the November ballot, Harrison said.
Brown, who has an accounting degree and six years of experience in the field, said there is no reason to believe that the voters cannot make a good choice for the position or that qualified candidates cannot be found.
"If the voters decide to make it an appointed position, that's all right with me. It's important that the voters at least have the choice," Brown said.
The second ballot initiative involves extending the mayor's term of office from two years to four years. The proposal was defeated by only a few votes four years ago under then Mayor Matt Brookshire.
Regardless of whether the initiative passes or fails, Aikens will have to run again in November for either a two- or four-year term, Harrison said.
Aikens said the purpose of the extended term is to provide continuity. The move to a four-year term would put the mayor's term in line with the four-year terms of city council members.
The extension of the term has also been endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce, Committee of 100 and the town's charter review committee, Aikens said.
Early voting began in Lenoir City on Friday.