Carter mayor vetoes landfill resolution that would limit his supervisory authority

John Thompson • Jan 30, 2013 at 9:55 AM

ELIZABETHTON — For the first time in his three years in office, Mayor Leon Humphrey has vetoed a resolution that had been approved by the Carter County Commission.

The veto came on a request to the county’s representatives and senators in the General Assembly to sponsor a private act to the state law that would take away the mayor’s supervisory authority over the director of the Carter County Landfill. If the private act was enacted, the director would be supervised by the Landfill Committee of the Carter County Commission.

“This is the first veto I have ever exercised,” Humphrey said during an interview Tuesday. “I cannot agree with the resolution.”

There were several reasons the mayor gave for his disagreement. He was concerned about the balance between the executive and legislative areas of county government, but also felt the proposed lines of supervision would not work.

“You can’t manage by committee,” Humphrey said. The Landfill Committee normally only meets once a month. Humphrey said it was important to have day-to-day supervision of the landfill and its associated activities in convenience stations and recycling.

As the resolution states in its first paragraph, state law generally gives county mayors the power to appoint department heads. Humphrey said there are two department heads in the county who are not supervised by the mayor. These are the finance director, who is supervised by the Financial Management Committee in accordance with the state law covering county finances that the county has chosen to follow. The other is the director of planning and zoning, who is supervised by the Planning Commission in accordance with the 1972 private act under which the county planning department was established.

Humphrey said to place other department heads under committees is inefficient and it sets a dangerous precedent.

“How many other department heads would come under the Commission?” Humphrey asked. “Would the Emergency Management Agency, Animal Control be next?”

With the mayor’s veto of the resolution, it now goes back to the County Commission, where a simple majority is all that is necessary to override the veto and send the measure on to the state representatives and senators. Since the commission voted 16-5 in favor of the resolution last week, Humphrey knows the odds are long that his veto will stand but he said there is another reason for the veto.

“I think the commission acted in haste. This will give it another chance to think things through. ... We don’t need to be the first county in the state to do this.”

The only man whose signature is on the resolution is Thomas “Yogi” Bowers, the chairman of the County Commission. He said he is not surprised by the veto.

“I have been expecting him to veto something. I thought he would veto the budget, but he let it go through,” Bowers said.

Bowers said he disagreed with the mayor about governing by committee.

“They govern by committees at all levels of government, from the federal to the local level,” Bowers said.

The resolution was introduced during last month’s commission meeting by Sonya Culler. She is a member of the Landfill Committee. She said Landfill Director Benny Lyons was uncomfortable about answering to both the committee and the mayor.

Humphrey said Lyons has been doing a good job as director of the landfill, but said “things are not as rosy as the committee has led us to believe.”

While the landfill is no longer requiring cash infusions for operational expenses, Humphrey said the landfill did receive $300,000 over the last two years for necessary equipment. He said there will continue to be additional expenditures from the General Fund over the next few years to sustain the operation.

Bowers said it has not yet been determined whether the mayor’s veto will require a special session of the commission. He said that depends on the deadline in the state legislature for presenting bills. If the deadline is before the next regularly scheduled meeting of the commission on Feb. 19, there would be a called meeting. If the deadline is later, the veto will be taken up at the regular meeting.

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