Process for filling Unicoi County Commission vacancy to be decided Monday

Brad Hicks • Jul 17, 2013 at 4:45 PM

ERWIN - Several big items, including approval of the county's 2013-14 budget and possible consideration of the approval of Unicoi County Memorial Hospital's sale, are on tap for the Unicoi County Commission in the near future.

But before the commission considers any large-scale items, it will look to fill the current vacancy on the panel.

At this Monday's meeting of the Unicoi County Commission, the commission will discuss the process it will use to fill the vacancy left by last month's resignation of longtime commissioner Doug Bowman, who represented the county's first district on the commission. The commission is made up of nine commissioners, with three commissioners representing each of Unicoi County's three districts.

On June 19, Bowman submitted his immediate resignation from the commission and the Unicoi County Planning Commission prior to that evening's called meeting of the county commission. In a letter addressed to commission Chairman Mickey Hatcher, Bowman cited response he received from the county mayor and fellow commissioners at an April meeting, during which he had at first abstained from voting on the renewal of a capital outlay note for renovations previously completed at the Unicoi County Jail Annex, as his family's construction company intended to bid on future work at the facility.

"After the comments at the April county commission meeting about Bowman & Sons Construction submitting a bid on the 911 renovations project, it became apparent that I would be forced to choose between my family business and my service on the county commission," Bowman wrote in his resignation letter. "This choice was very easy. It would not be fair for my service on the commission to deny my brothers the opportunity to bid on work in Erwin."

According to the minutes from that April meeting, Bowman, who had served on the commission since 2004, changed his vote in favor of the note's renewal when asked by other commissioners if he would be willing to change his vote.

Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said the process the commission will utilize to fill the vacancy will be discussed and likely decided upon Monday. The commission will then hold a called meeting on Aug. 6 at which it will select a new county commissioner. The county had originally looked at possibly filling the vacancy at its Monday meeting.

Lynch said so far one potential candidate, former Unicoi County Sheriff's Department employee and current East Tennessee State University employee Stacy Wigand, has officially sent notice to the county that he wishes to be considered to fill the vacancy.

"There's been some people, at least one other person, attending some meetings that has expressed interest," Lynch said.

Candidates interested in serving on the commission must reside in the county's first district and may make their interest known to Hatcher through the county mayor's office, Lynch said. Lynch also said there may be an opportunity for names to be put up for consideration from the floor at the Aug. 6 meeting, but these potential appointees must be nominated by a current commissioner to be considered.

The candidate selected at the Aug. 6 meeting will be sworn in between that day and the county commission's regular meeting on Aug. 26, Lynch said. He said the new commissioner will take his or her seat on the panel at the Aug. 26 meeting.

First District Commissioner and Finance Committee Chairman Loren Thomas said he asked that major items up for the commission's consideration be tabled until the vacancy can be filled, as his district does not "equal representation" on panel.

"The first district, being short a commissioner, the people in the first district are not fairly and equally represented because we don't have the same number of votes on the commission as the other districts," Thomas said.

Thomas also said state law calls for at least nine county commissioners to be appointed to a commission, and that the Unicoi County Commission is currently not a full, legal commission. Because of this, Thomas said he is of the opinion that the commission should not be voting on items until the vacancy is filled. And, with some of the issues on the horizon, Thomas said it is important the each seat on the commission be filled.

"I don't feel it's fair for the people of the first district for us to go into these meetings short a commissioner," he said.

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