Wilson County commissioners had harsh words for state lawmakers during Monday’s regular county commission meeting.
Commissioners expressed disappointment that a private act signed into law recently by Gov. Bill Haslam prohibits commissioners from appointing two new school board members provided for in the law.
The law, which expands the Wilson County Board of Education from five members to seven, also reduced the number of school board members from the four requested by the commission to two.
County Attorney Mike Jennings presented the commissioners with a copy of the private act as it was signed into law.
“Usually the private acts that we send down [that] we approve here, they go to the legislature and they come back here for approval. This particular private act does not require us to re-approve it,” Jennings said.
He got a copy of the approved resolution Friday.
The commission requested an opinion from the state Attorney General asking whether they were within their rights to appoint two members if the public voted to increase the number on the board. The Attorney General said they could appoint the two members to serve until the next election, which would be held in 2016, if the referendum passes in August.
An amendment made to the act prior to its passage in the legislature “specifies that this bill will apply beginning with the August 2016 election and that members will be elected not appointed.”
“What you’re going to have, if the people approve this in August, is you’re going to have a board that consists of seven members, but there’s only five on the board - because they took away the authority for you to appoint those two - until August of 2016,” said Jennings.
Commissioner Jeff Joines asked for a clarification.
“Let me ask you, so I can understand what you’re saying…We sent a private act down there, [our representatives] changed our private act. So what you’re telling us now is the legislation that they approved is not the legislation that we sent down there, but we don’t have to vote on it to approve the legislation that they [came] up with. What if we don’t like that legislation? We’re just going to take it?”
Commissioner Annette Stafford, who spearheaded the campaign to increase the number of school board members, expressed her distaste at the news as well.
“I just want to make sure that it is known that I am terribly disappointed in our senator and our state representatives for not doing what we asked [them] to do,” she said. “I believe our state representative came to the podium and came and asked us that if we could reduce our numbers that he would see to it that it got through. I’m extremely disappointed in what we have representing us in the state level.”
Commissioner Jerry McFarland asked Jennings if the commission could send another private act to the legislature asking for what was originally intended, and Jennings said it could be done, but it would not be heard until sometime in the next session. He estimated that it could be January before it was taken up.
Stafford said there was only one good part of the private act as it was returned to the commission.
“The only good thing about this is it will give us the opportunity to redistrict, but other than that we’ve lost whatever we wanted to do. Those people [in the newly created districts] will go without representation for another year to 18 months.”
Jennings said, “this is the law now. It’s been signed by the governor, Speaker Ramsey and Speaker Harwell.”