The right to hold a referendrum on expanding the Wilson County Board of Education from five members to seven was approved with the sound of Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey’s gavel Thursday morning.
The only thing left is for Gov. Bill Haslam to either sign it or allow it to become law without his signature. The governor has 10 days, not counting Sundays, to approve or veto a bill. If he takes no action within that time, the bill becomes law without his signature.
But the final version is not the version the Wilson County Commission entrusted its local legislators to shepherd through the halls of Tennessee’s Capitol.
The final version of the private act delays the fulfillment of the two positions – provided voters approve the referendum on the Aug. 7 ballot – until the August 2016 election – despite a March 31 opinion from the State Attorney General stating that the county commission has the right to appoint the vacancies.
History of the private act
In January, the county commission voted 19-5 to send a private act to the General Assembly asking to hold a referendum on the Aug. 7 election to increase the number of BOE from its current to nine.
However, the Jan. 27 meeting was filled with differing opinions about whether the increase should be two or four new members, as well as whether the county commission should appoint the new members on a staggered term basis initially or whether the newly created positions should be elected by the people to staggered terms in 2016.
Ultimately, the decision was to draft a resolution asking for an increase of four new members with the county commission initially appointing those members after the Election Commission redraws the new districts.
Flash forward to the March 17 commission meeting, when Wilson County Attorney Mike Jennings informed the commission that Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, had requested an Attorney General’s opinion regarding the appointment of the new board members.
Education Committee Chair Annette Stafford of District 20 made a motion to change the proposed private act from nine members to seven members, stating she didn’t want to do anything that would delay the passage of the legislation. The motion passed on voice vote.
On March 31, the AG issued Opinion 14-38 that stated “The creation of new positions on the county board of education pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. 49-2-201(a)(1) would create vacancies in the newly created positions that the county legislative body may fill by appointment.”
In addition, the opinion stated that the August 2016 election of the newly created positions “should be construed as a ‘first election,’ requiring staggered terms of office by electing members from even-numbered districts for an initial term of two years and by electing members from odd-numbered districts for a term of four years.”
The opinion also stated that “county school-board members be ‘elected from districts of substantially equal population established by resolution of the local legislative body.” However, the AG opined that there was “no requirement” for the county commission to reapportion districts until after the outcome of the referendrum on the Aug. 7 election is known.
Change to private act
According to State Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, who carried the private act known as House Bill 2550, in the House, the AG’s opinion came after the House Local Government Committee had closed for the legislative session.
However, a review of the video of the April 2 House Local Government meeting shows Chair Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, telling committee members to anticipate one more meeting the next week because there were outstanding local bills.
However, the committee did not meet the next week. It did not reconvene for the final time until Tuesday, April 15.
A review of the bill’s legislative track shows that it wasn’t filed for introduction until April 2, and that it was referred to the Local Government Committee on April 7 and placed on the committee’s calendar on April 14.
The committee met at 7:55 a.m. Tuesday for 39 minutes and had 29 items on the agenda.
Pody’s bill was number nine on the agenda, and first-term Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville, had an amendment that changed the bill from the county commission to appointing the members to them being voted on in the August 2016 election.
“I’ve seen this happen before with some of things with the school boards and the commissions,” Carr said. “I just want to make that expansion of the board not to begin until 2016 after the districts are redrawn and referendrum is held so there’s no misconception there about how the board is appointed and everything.”
There was no discussion on the amendment, which passed by a voice vote, as did the bill.
Carr’s amendment calls for the current sitting BOE members to remain in their districts “until the expiration of their current terms.” However, the two new members shall be elected in the regular August 2016 election with one being elected to a four-year term and one to a two-year term.
The two new board members would take office on Sept. 1 following the election.
Pody told The Wilson Post after the meeting that he didn’t have the votes to override Carr’s amendment in committee and was told by House leadership that if he attempted to have the amendment removed on the floor, it would be sent back to the House Local Committee and die, because that committee has closed for the session.
The bill passed the House on third consideration on Wednesday by a vote of 94-0. The Senate version, with the amendment, was placed on the Senate Local Calendar Thursday morning, along with nine other private acts. The Senate approved the calendar by a vote of 30-0.
Correspondent Amelia Morrison Hipps may be contacted at email@example.com.