Carter County mayor's proposed gun resolution defeated in commission

John Thompson • Feb 19, 2013 at 10:01 PM

ELIZABETHTON — The very first veto ever cast by Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey was overridden in the Carter County Commission on Tuesday night. The mayor also suffered a defeat when a proposed resolution he wanted to send to Nashville calling on the state to nullify any federal gun restrictions was also narrowly defeated.

The defeat of the mayor’s proposed gun right’s resolution revolved around two points. Commissioner Steve Lowrance said he was a strong supporter of gun rights, but felt the mayor was merely using it in an effort to get re-elected. The second point was the resolution’s call for Tennessee to nullify any federal law to restrict the rights of Tennesseans to keep and bear arms.

Lowrance said he possessed guns since an early age and had shot deer and bear as a youngster. He said he was a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but felt the mayor was merely using the issue.

Humphrey reacted strongly to the criticism and said he was motivated by the Obama Administration’s plans for gun control. He said the administration is playing on the nation’s grief over a massacre in a school to push forward legislation that Humphrey saw as unconstitutional.

“This infringes on our inalienable rights,” Humphrey said. “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” He said it was a mental health problem.

Humphrey said his proposed resolution was done in an attempt to send a message to the state, the Congress and the president.

The question of nullification was defended by Humphrey, who said Tennessee and several other states had been called upon to nullify the Obama initiative.

The nullification question was debated by Commissioner Pat Hicks, a former history teacher. He said the Supreme Court in two decisions had ruled “the states have no right to nullify the acts of Congress.”

Commissioner Ronnie Trivett discussed the War of 1812, and said if it had not been for the citizens holding their own weapons, “we would all be speaking with an English accent.”

Hicks responded by saying the hero of the War of 1812 was Andrew Jackson and when he became president he threatened to march federal troops into South Carolina over the state’s threats to nullify a tariff it opposed.

At first, it appeared the resolution would be approved. A motion to table it garnered only 7 votes. But when it came up for a vote, it fell one vote short, 12-8.

The vote to override the veto passed by only one vote. Unlike vetoes at the state and national levels, which require a two-thirds vote to override, the County Commission can override the mayor’s veto by a simple majority of 13 votes.

Humphrey’s veto was an attempt to stop a request for a private act to take away the mayor’s supervisory power over the director of the Carter County Landfill. The Commission had voted 16-5 last month to send the resolution for calling on the state legislature to enact a private act that would place landfill director Benny Lyons under the supervision of the Landfill Committee of the County Commission.

The mayor vetoed the resolution the next day, saying “you can’t manage by committee.” A few weeks ago he said he decided to veto the measure in order for the commissioners to have more time to think.

On Tuesday, one of the mayor’s strongest supporters was Commissioner John Lewis. “It would be a mistake,” Lewis said to replace the mayor with a committee. Lewis said if the landfill needed help, the state government would be much more likely to take a phone call from the mayor than from a mere chairman of a committee.

Several other commissioners also defended the mayor and the veto. “I think it would be a bad move and a bad precedent,” Charles Von Cannon said of the move to strip the mayor of his supervisory power in one area.

“I think this is giving too much power to one committee,” Nancy Brown said.

Lyons was asked to speak and came forward to say that “I don’t have anything against the mayor,” but said there was more continuity after elections with a committee. He said a mayor may be defeated, meaning an entirely new start, but there would usually be some members of a committee who win re-election, so the changes would be more gradual.

The commissioners also accepted the recommendation of the Carter County Landfill to go with a new waste carrier for the transfer station. The recommendation was to continue negotiations with Advanced Disposal on a contract for the next five years. If successful, it will be the first time in 20 years, since the transfer station was opened, that Allied Waste has not held the contract.

Landfill Committee Chairman Joel Street Jr. said the contract will save the county approximately $90,000 per year.

In other matters, the Commission took two votes to elect Jerry Pearman to the Carter County Planning Commission. Pearman is a former County Commissioner and formerly served as chairman of the Planning Commission.

The mayor had good news to announce during his report to the Commission. Humphrey said construction started on Tuesday on the animal shelter the county is jointly building with the city of Elizabethton. The project has long been planned and was set back last year when bids on the previous design for the shelter came in over budget.

He said the proposed reroofing of the Carter County Justice Center is still in the design stage because the problem with the saturated insulation is factored in to the previous estimates.

The commissioners also heard from Elizabethton-Carter County Public Library director Melodi Goff about efforts to consolidate the city library board and the county library board. She said the move would be an advantage for the county because it would give county representatives a vote on the decision making board.

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