What has been a very informal, on-again off-again committee comprised of Johnson City and Washington County leaders was reborn Thursday night in a tightly run, ground-up reformation of its structure and purpose.
The City-County Liaison Committee, which last met April 25, formally elected City Commissioner Jenny Brock as chairwoman, County Commissioner Lee Chase as vice chairman and Johnson City Board of Education Chairwoman Kathy Hall as its secretary.
To put that move alone in perspective, members did not know for sure who was supposed to be doing what a little more than a year ago. That ended Thursday.
“When the meeting was canceled last time (July 25) we had been starting to get some direction,” Brock said as the meeting began. “I think we need to have a chairman and a vice chairman from the other body. I also think it would be a good idea to re-establish the purpose of this committee. We need to have set agendas for every meeting. I’d certainly like to see this be a high-performing committee.”
Brock will serve in that position through July.
“So what is our purpose? she asked.
That comment prompted City and County Commissioner David Tomita to grab a Sharpie and position himself next to an easel, where he would made notes for all members to see.
“We need to officially identify our members,” Brock said.
Standing members at the meeting included County Commissioners Sam Phillips, Alpha Bridger Skip Oldham, Phyllis Corso and Pete Speropulos. Tomita and Brock represent the City Commission.
Brock asked for school board members from both the city and county to also be on the committee. Hall and Sheila Cox, who also was there, are now the confirmed city schools’ members. Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes, also in attendance, said he would talk with county school board members and retrieve two representatives from that body.
City Manager Pete Peterson and Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin will likely attend the meetings as well, though they are not officially members. The same goes for Dykes and County Mayor Dan Eldridge, who also sat in on Thursday’s meeting. The group also agreed to contact Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe and ask him to pick representatives to serve on the committee.
The committee had been meeting quarterly; it now will meet at least five times during the calendar year. It will meet next Sept. 25, at which time the group will more closely define the issues they need to be addressing. On Thursday, this is the list Tomita compiled: education, infrastructure, legislation, animal shelter, annexation, economic development, public safety and EMS-911.
These were not listed in order of importance but out of necessity, according to members.
Sherry Greene, Eldridge’s executive assistant, will assemble the agenda for each meeting and send out public notices.
The general purpose for the committee? In general, “Ongoing communication between the two governing bodies.”
“OK, let’s fine-tune our purpose,” Brock said after Tomita had written it on the easel. “I suggest we have these as a core set of issues. We’ll kind of use these things on the agenda, but we’re going to have active issues that are going to come in. We’ll make it our purpose to convey information to both city and county officials.”
The committee, which was put together to do just that, last had a meeting at which major issues were discussed in January 2012. That was when an unexpectedly high number of Washington County commissioners showed up and openly and overtly pushed to get the city officially on board to sell voters on a local option sales tax increase to help fund schools.
Since that time — not so much.
It now appears a channel has opened, and everyone on board agreed there are some delicate issues to examine that may unsettle one side or the other. But these are issues that won’t be controlled by a gavel, and everyone agreed to proceed — even if the going gets tough — by treating each other with respect and dignity.
“We’re battling a reputation of our discourse, so let’s all come back next month and show that we can get things done,” Tomita said. “It would be nice to send a message that we are collaborative and functional.”