Legality of vote on zoning considered

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff

The zoning saga continues. Citizens still want answers, and many county officials say they are willing to provide them. On Monday afternoon, several Roan Mountain citizens met with County Mayor Dale Fair and five county commissioners to discuss the recent approval of county-wide zoning.
   The point of contention centers around parliamentary procedure regarding the vote taken at the Oct. 20 county commission meeting to approve county-wide zoning. A motion was made to send a resolution for a referendum so that citizens could cast their vote on zoning. That motion failed 12-11. Those numbers may seem to indicate a majority vote; however, according to Tennessee Code Annotated, because the commission seats 24 members, a majority requires 13 votes.
   Also, citizens are concerned about the absence of Commissioner Lawrence Hodge when the vote was taken. It is unknown whether that vote would have passed the resolution, but many citizens believe commissioners should be present for the duration of each meeting, especially when they are voting on a major issue that has garnered such grassroots discontent.
   After a public hearing, numerous attempts were made by Commissioner Al Meehan to postpone a vote on zoning until the Dec. 8 regular commission meeting. However, both motions failed 12-11.
   The concerned citizens quoted Robert's Rules of Order, a guide to parliamentary procedure, which states that a majority at a public meeting only requires 12 votes. Fair said the county commission made a decision according to three criteria which he said override Roberts Rules of Order.
   "We either go by the Tennessee Constitution, the Tennessee Code Annotated, or we either go by a private act. Those are the three law abiding things that can override that at a commission meeting. Robert's Rules of Order is how we conduct the meeting. But it cannot violate TCA. You have to have order to your meeting. And that's the only thing we use that for is order to the meeting," said Fair.
   Commissioner John D. Snyder said, "To get a clarification on this, we would probably have to call Nashville and ask them what the guidelines is, and does it take majority of 24 or if there is only 23 there does it still take 13? I have been told ever since I have been on county court that it takes a majority of which would be 13. It wouldn't matter if there was only 20 people at the meeting, it would still take 13."
   Juanita Miller spoke to the mayor and commissioners and asked to get a clarification on the matter from the attorney general's office.
   "Every city and county government has to follow that. I can get you a ruling on that," said Fair.
   Many of the citizens are angry because they feel the majority of the people were not represented and say that the only way the voting public can see what the majority wants is to hold a referendum. On Oct. 20, the vote to send a resolution for a referendum would have required an additional vote.
   If a resolution to form a zoning referendum had been approved, the commission would still be required to vote again on the issue, which would require a two-thirds majority vote for final approval.
   David Hoffman said "31,000 people were stopped from voting because of it."
   Fair said he didn't believe there were 31,000 registered voters in Carter County.
   Nancy Brown replied, "But they would be. I guarantee ya', if you would give us time they would be."
   According to the election commission, 29,227 Carter County citizens are registered to vote.