By Scott Robertson
The Jan. 25 meeting of the Washington County Commission was disappointing to virtually everyone in attendance. Hundreds of county residents had gathered, spoiling for a fight. At issue was a resolution from the Public Safety Committee stating entitled, “Resolution to support the historical institution and legal contract solemnizing the relationship of one man and one woman as the only legally recognized marital contract in the state of Tennessee.”
There were, in fact, too many residents for the space, which forced the commission to defer consideration of the matter until the commission could make a reasonable effort to accommodate all in attendance. The eagerly awaited debate (and with it, all other commission business) was put off until Feb. 22.
I hope on that date the commission disappoints both sides again. Not by putting off the whole meeting, mind you. I believe most commissioners regret that move in retrospect. But rather by refusing to have a fight that is not the commission’s to have.
Before the commission gets into a discussion of whether the Supreme Court overstepped its authority in ruling contrarily to the terms stated in the resolution, it must first answer the question of whether it is appropriate, or even in any way productive, to have that discussion.
I spoke to several commissioners the night of the aborted January meeting, and most, including Commissioner Joe Wise, were of the opinion the commission had no business entertaining the resolution. Wise has since put that sentiment into a letter to Chairman Greg Matherly. It is Wise’s intention to attempt to have the resolution removed from the agenda, and I believe he is absolutely correct to do so.
First, regardless of whether the Supreme Court was right or wrong, it is against the commission’s own rules to consider the resolution. To wit, rule 8E of the Washington County Rules of Procedures:
Resolutions should be germane or relevant to county matters. The business of the board shall be confined to public health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Washington County. The agenda and resolutions of the Board of County Commissioners is not an appropriate forum to make political statements regarding federal, state and other jurisdictions’ actions that do not directly affect county government. Upon a motion of a board member, and a majority vote of the Board of County Commissioners, a resolution shall be removed from the agenda as lacking germaneness or relevance to county government or its operations. Upon adoption of the motion, the resolution shall not be spread upon the minutes of the Board of County Commissioners.
This resolution in no way affects the governance of Washington County. The law of the land is what it is, and this resolution does not change how any employee or official of the county government acts in accordance with that law.
This resolution only takes a stance regarding a law over which it has no authority. The commission might as well take a firm stance on whether snow should be allowed to fall again before spring.
The commission’s job is not to be a color commentator on the Supreme Court, or any other level of government. Should this resolution be considered by the commission, the floodgates would be open to grandstanding on any and every world and national issue any commissioner could get through a committee.
And how did this resolution come through the Public Safety Committee anyway? I doubt the Public Works Committee, for instance, would send up a resolution on teacher pay. If the commission is going to let any issue come from any committee, what’s the point of assigning specific responsibilities to the committees in the first place?
The bottom line is, if you believe, as I do, that local government is the most efficient form of government, then you should cherish and defend it. The Washington County Commission is not like our time-wasting, grandstanding, soundbite-obsessed federal government, thank God. I pray I will still be able to say that next Tuesday.