The Athens City Council is developing a timeline to review the city’s primary governing document.
At its November study session, the council discussed the process by which it will look over and suggest possible revisions to the city charter, which is a private act and requires approval from the state legislature to be modified.
City Manager C. Seth Sumner began the conversation by suggesting that the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) be brought in to facilitate the charter review.
Council Member Dick Pelley suggested what he called a “Charter Saturday” meeting and to exclude MTAS from the initial discussion.
“We meet as a council and figure out what we want to do, what changes we’re looking at, and then look at the process, then call MTAS in,” said Pelley.
Council Member Frances Witt McMahan asked Pelley if the public would participate in the meeting he proposed.
“The main thing is that we involve the citizens, absolutely, but I think that it’s our call,” said Pelley.
“If we’re going to meet and discuss it, I want citizen input, but first I want us to deal with it and they can observe but not participate in that initial meeting,” said Witt McMahan.
Pelley agreed and said once the council develops its proposals, those suggestions can be put up for public scrutiny, followed by MTAS review.
Mayor Bo Perkinson said he feels MTAS should lead the charter discussion.
“I really think MTAS, having looked at the charters all across the state and having people that are dedicated to this process and understanding charter review; I really think they need to be the ones that lead us,” he said.
Pelley and Witt McMahan disagreed with MTAS being involved in the initial discussion.
“Since we don’t know at this time what we want, then I don’t want MTAS to come and influence what we want. I want to take it to them to help guide us,” said Witt McMahan.
Both Pelley and Witt McMahan said MTAS should be involved later in the process and could provide valuable insight.
“I do think we need MTAS … but I don’t see any harm in us coming together first and listening to each other,” said Witt McMahan.
Perkinson then suggested that MTAS be present at the initial meeting in an observational role. Witt McMahan said she has no problem with that and that it might be beneficial for MTAS to be privy to the initial council discussion. Pelley also said he has no problem with MTAS being present at the initial meeting.
“I have no problem with them being there as long as they’re observers and not part of the program,” said Pelley.
Vice Mayor Mark Lockmiller expressed his support for Pelley and Witt McMahan’s proposal. Council Member Jordan Curtis was unable to attend the study session.
Sumner suggested incorporating the charter discussion into the council’s annual Strategic Summit, which is slated for Feb. 25 and 26, 2022. Pelley said he does not want to wait that long.
The council appeared to reach consensus around holding the initial charter discussion on a Saturday in January.