County approves written statement in support of Guard, Reserves

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff
ljenkins@starhq.com
Carter County is the first county government in Tennessee to approve a written statement from the organization Employee Support for Guard and Reserve that upholds the employment rights of military members following service to their country.
Brad Moffitt, former Commander of the Guard's 776th Maintenance Company, brought the item before the full County Commission for review at Monday's monthly meeting.
"They (members of the Guard and Army Reserve) don't need to be thinking, 'Will I have a job when I get back?'," Moffitt said.
The document, approved unanimously by 22 commissioners, reads, "We recognize the National Guard and Reserve as essential to the strength of our nation and the well-being of our communities. Their members must have the cooperation of all American employers in encouraging employee participation in Guard and Reserve training programs.
"Therefore, we join other employers in pledging that: Employment will not be denied because of service in the Guard or Reserve; employee job and career opportunities will not be limited or reduced because of service in the Guard or Reserve; employees will be granted leaves of absence for military training in the Guard or Reserve consistent with existing laws, without sacrifice of vacation, and this agreement and its resultant policies will be made known throughout our organization."
In other business, Economic Development Commission Director Haynes Elliot discussed the status of the EDC with emphasis on the job market in Carter County.
"I brought my files but I am not going to go through them of course. Each one of these files is somebody we're working with. We cannot, of course, publicly say what and who (is in the files). We are working on a lot of things privately that has to do with these companies that just don't want anything said until they make their own announcements," Elliot said.
November 2003 state unemployment figures show Carter County as second lowest in the area at 5.5 percent, Elliot said, adding that the figure is below the state average of 5.7 percent. Washington County rated lowest at 4.7 percent.
Elliot contributed county figures to the large number of local commercial employers.
Greene County's unemployment rate for November 2003 was 5.7 percent; the Sullivan County rate was 5.8 percent, and Johnson County had a rate of 7.7 percent.
Elliot attributes winter time unemployment to layoffs at construction companies and road crews, which will begin work again when warmer weather arrives.
Although he couldn't name companies that are looking to locate in the county or that are hiring, Elliot did say one company has added approximately 90 employees but does not want a public announcement made.
"A big hit for Carter County was when Fingerhut closed. They closed with about 600 employees. I think they are in the process of selling that building now. But we have got to have more industrial land if we are going to go forward with the industrial program.
"We have got Super Wal-Mart starting now that will employ probably 300-400 more. Lowe's Incorporated -- I just did a sight for their sign this morning early. That's going to be starting pretty soon. They will employ several hundred. There is lots of things happening here ... Lowe's paid $1.6 million for their land," Elliot said.
Commissioners also approved an Interlocal Cooperation Agreement between Carter County Jail inmates and Johnson County. The agreement states Johnson County has additional space and will "house inmates from Carter so long as it has available capacity."
Johnson County will not take more than 30 inmates according to the agreement, which was tabled from the December meeting to amend it to read that Carter County inmates housed in Johnson County will not be eligible for work release programs.
Johnson County will recieve $29.50 per inmate per day from Carter County.
After all other items on the agenda were finished, commissioners recognized some constituents who had various concerns within the county.
Since county-wide zoning became effective Oct. 20, many residents opposed to zoning have attended committee meetings and full commission meetings to express their opinions. Sherman Knaack addressed the commission by saying, "The biggest complaint is put it on the ballot. Give us the right. We don't have much rights anymore. Y'all know that. But give us the right to say, 'Yes, we want it' or, 'No, we don't want it."
"In the Roan Mountain area we've got three people, three commissioners we can vote for. We can vote for Wayne Holtsclaw, Al Meehan or Amos Stephens. That's only three, but yet we are controlled by 24 of y'all. We have no say so in that. We should be able to vote for 24 commissioners if 24 commissioners is gonna' make our rules as to what we live by," said Knaack.
Another citizen interested in having a referendum on zoning, Crystal Hicks, said, "All I am asking is that if you're so sure that there is more people out there for it (zoning) than against it and you're sure it is going to pass, then just let us vote on it guys. That's all we ask. I think everyone in this room would be happy just knowing we did all we could do and let the public vote."
According to County Attorney George Dugger, a referendum can only be held on a topic that state legislature allows. Tennessee state legislature does not allow a binding referendum on zoning. However, a non-binding referendum could be held, but commissioners would be required to pass a private act with a two-thirds vote to send it to the legislature for approval. If approved, it must come back to the commission for another two-thirds approval vote before being placed on a ballot.
If a non-binding referendum were held, county-wide zoning would still be in effect, but commissioners would know how the majority of their constituents feel about county-wide land use planning.