Jenny Hill says she plans to maintain her Hamilton County school board seat even if she is elected to the Chattanooga City Council.
Hill, a first-term member of the board of education, is running for the District 2 council seat representing parts of North Chattanooga, which is being vacated by Councilman Jerry Mitchell.
If elected in the March 2 election, Hill said that she will serve in both roles until her school board term ends in 2022. The positions are both part-time. The council seat pays about $21,000 a year, and the school board pays about $12,000.
"Finishing what I start for the people of [School] District 6 is what drove my decision and living up to my commitment, and also having a positive impact for our community," Hill told the Times Free Press on Tuesday. "I feel called to public service, and the timing of elections is out of my control. But what is in my control is my ability to work hard for my constituents to listen carefully. And to think big for our city and for our county."
Hill said the two roles would provide valuable insight to both bodies.
"I do think that for the city council to have someone on the board that's intimately knowledgeable about what's happening in public education in our county will be an especially impactful asset. And for the school board to have a voice that represents, or that has a deep understanding of the priorities of the city of Chattanooga, will be equally impactful," Hill said, noting that strong public education is a benefit for city issues.
A potential constituent in District 2, Robert Moore, wrote a letter to the Times Free Press expressing his concerns about Hill holding both positions.
"I just think that — this day and age with the coronavirus with everything that's going on, not only in the state but within our city — that time needs to be devoted to what you were elected to do," Moore said in a phone call Tuesday. "She was elected to serve the parents, the teachers and the citizens have voted for her for her school board position."
Asked if the fact that city council is a part-time position and other members serve on different committees, own companies and work various jobs, Moore said the school board is just too daunting to be juggled with a city council position.
"I'm not sure how that would jive in the coronavirus era where everything is changing, especially in school systems where everything is changing every day, and you have to be ready to go in as a school board member," he added.
According to a 2007 opinion by the Tennessee attorney general, "There is a well-recognized common law prohibition against a public officer holding two incompatible offices at the same time. This common law prohibition generally applies when an individual occupies two inherently inconsistent offices. The question of incompatibility of necessity depends on the circumstances of the individual case, and the issue is whether the occupancy of both offices by the same person is detrimental to the public interest, or whether performance of the duties of one interferes with the performance of those of the other."
Considerations under common law include whether one office supervises another — not the case with the school board and city council — and whether the two agencies in question have contracts with one another. Contracts would make it difficult for someone sitting on the governing board of both agencies involved to fulfill a responsibility to seek the best deal for constituents of each agency.
Hill said she is not concerned about her ability to serve both bodies thoroughly and will balance the duties of both.
"I am not concerned. I make time for things that matter. I have been making time for things that matter in this city for a decade. And this is an evolution of my commitment to public service," Hill said. "Like many people in District 2 and in our city, I am committed to doing a lot of things. And I have proven that I do them well.
"Basically women walk around kicking butt all the time."
Asked if she would seek re-election to the school board if elected to council, Hill said she would "work closely with constituents to identify a strong replacement."
According to Hamilton County Elections Administrator Scott Allen, there's no local rule prohibiting Hill from holding the positions.
"We are not aware of any current provisions in the City Charter or school board rules that would prohibit it," Allen said in a text message Tuesday.
There is some local precedent for officials holding two offices. State Rep. Esther Helton, elected in 2018, was elected to the East Ridge City Council in 2016 and 2020.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at email@example.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.