Guns and development taxes were two items of consideration at the recent Rutherford County Commission committee meeting.
The Steering, Legislative & Governmental Committee met Jan. 4.
One action taken was a unanimous vote to hold a new meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee to discuss whether to allow county workers who have firearms carry permits to carry while on the job.
A group of county residents and advocates challenged the Nov. 13 meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee meeting over public notice concerns. The committee’s stated purpose was to decide on the concealed carry issue and make a recommendation to the steering committee. County policy does not allow a worker to carry a firearm unless that is part of his or her job (i.e., a deputy). Otherwise, the workers could keep their firearm only in their vehicle’s trunk under state law.
Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, addressed the concerns in a letter to Commissioner Craig Harris, chairman of the steering committee, and Nick Christiansen, county attorney. The letter was co-signed by county resident Edward M. Phillips Jr.
The letter said that the ad hoc meeting may have violated the “adequate public notice” requirements set forth by the Tennessee Open Meetings Act. Fisher and Phillips asked that the committee meet again in compliance with the act to “cure” the potential violation.
The letter took issue with the meeting notice provided in a Nov. 5 publication of a Murfreesboro newspaper. Special meetings, by law, must include notice in a location where a member of the community could become aware of the notice; the notice contents should reasonably describe the purpose or proposed action; and notice must be given in sufficient time to give citizens a chance to learn of and attend the meeting.
Fisher and Phillips said the notice that was advertised did not include the purpose of the meeting or the action to be taken. The committee “deliberated a government policy and decided to make a recommendation on that policy,” the letter said.
Phillips said that after listening to audio of the ad hoc meeting, he believes it went beyond its stated purpose because it discussed the possibility of posting security at the historic courthouse. If the county took that step, in addition to installing metal detectors, it could place signs at the courthouse prohibiting citizens with carry permits from bringing their firearms inside the building.
The ad hoc committee minutes show officials not only discussed increasing security at the historic courthouse but also increasing security at other public buildings.
At the steering committee meeting, Commissioner Pettus Read mentioned the issues with the public notice and said, “We do not want to do anything that causes anyone a problem.” He made a motion to hold another ad hoc meeting as soon as possible.
Harris said, “I don’t think we in any way were trying to hide anything.”
The vote was unanimous.
The new meeting is set for Jan. 15 at 10:30 a.m. It will be held in the second floor of the historic courthouse.
The steering committee held a lengthy debate on the county’s current development tax of $1,500 per new home, the maximum that can be charged. That revenue can fund improvements to schools, roads or other infrastructure.
During the steering committee meeting, commissioners expressed concern the County Powers Relief Act of 2006 would not allow enough revenue, and that funds generated would go only to education, not other infrastructure needs. Commissioners expressed frustration that the General Assembly was supposed to revisit the effectiveness of the Powers Act with an economic study in 2010 but never did so.
The committee voted 6-1 to require Christiansen to modify a proposed resolution that the commission hopes to present to Rutherford County’s legislative delegates to seek help from the entire General Assembly.
Commissioner Robert Stevens, who voted against the motion, said that the commission cannot receive an increase to the development tax rate, as local legislators have said for several years. Stevens said he would like the commission to consider using the County Powers Relief Act if changes could be made to that act.
State Rep. Mike Sparks of Smyrna made a presentation on his plans to convince the Legislature to approve funding for more school social workers to help with mental health challenges. He has championed the bill in the past, and he said he wants the commission to write a resolution in support of his efforts.