Hamilton County Commission considers additional evening meetings for issues of public interest

Hamilton County Commission considers additional evening meetings for issues of public interest

August 14th, 2019 by Sarah Grace Taylor in Breaking News

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Hamilton County Commissioner Katherlyn Geter introduces Emily O'Donnell during the Mayor's Council for Women's Statewide Women's Policy Conference at the Westin Hotel on Feb. 8, 2019 in Chattanooga.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

Clarification: This story was updated to include that Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley praised Commissioner Tim Boyd for a recent resolution regarding tax vote procedure.

The Hamilton County Commission may soon hold evening meetings to give the public an opportunity to be heard on major issues.

A resolution proposed Wednesday by District 5 Commissioner Katherlyn Geter would give the commission the ability to hold special 6:30 p.m. Wednesday meetings on significant issues to provide access to those who cannot attend the panel's regular 9:30 a.m. meetings.

"When I was campaigning, there were many, many things that were brought to my attention. ... One of them that consistently came up was 'Ms. Geter, why does the commission meet at the time that they meet?'" Geter said. "Now having won, sitting where I'm sitting and talking to my fellow commissioners and attorney [Rheubin] Taylor and members of the Hamilton County government, this is something that has consistently still come up and concerns not only people in District 5, but of the county."

While Commission Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley praised her colleague, District 8 Commissioner Tim Boyd, for implementing a rule that requires 21 days before the presentation of and vote on a tax increase to allow time for public input and Geter praised County Mayor Jim Coppinger for establishing a livestreaming system, both acknowledged there is still work to be done in providing the public the opportunity to be involved.

"There are still many in our county who can't attend the meetings for various reasons," Geter added. "And I think the biggest thing is that most folks work during the day, and I think that prohibits them from attending our meetings."

When asked, Geter said that the commission would vote on whether an issue had the public interest to warrant a later meeting on a case-by-case basis.

Specifically, she said the meetings would help when there are issues such as the controversial 2020 budget or the potential merger between the city and county wastewater service.

"We have had a lot of topics of great interest and concern that have brought a mass of people to our commission meetings," Geter said. "Truth be told, everything we discuss up here is important. I would like to see every week that every one of [the commission chamber] seats are filled. That to me is what democracy is and what it should be about."

The general idea was met with a lot of support, but also some logistical concerns about staffing at the courthouse after hours and a suggestion from District 2 Commissioner Chip Baker to make a more permanent change.

"I like the thought and, frankly, wish every meeting was at 5:30 [p.m.] every Wednesday," Baker said. "I think 6:30 is a little late, but 5:30 seems like the perfect time to have these meetings. ... I like the idea [of evening meetings] because then working people can come."

Commission meetings are livestreamed on the Hamilton County Commission Meetings YouTube channel.

The commission will vote on the resolution at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 21.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @sarahgtaylor.