Covington’s board of mayor and aldermen will vote tonight on a charter revision that will make the mayor a voting member of the board and reduce the number of readings required for ordinances and not everyone is on board with it.
At least one current alderman and a former alderwoman have spoken out against the proposed change, fearing a reduction in representation for the city’s residents.
“As it stands now, the a majority of the aldermen are needed to open a meeting and to vote on ordinances and I believe that this ensures proper representation when doing the city’s business,” said alderman John Edwards, who was recently re-elected to serve District 1.
The revision, which has been in the work since early last summer, will make the mayor a member of the board and changes the requirements for meetings from “four aldermen” to “four members of the board.”
What this means is if two aldermen fail to show up for a meeting, the mayor’s attendance will fulfill the requirements for a quorum. He will be able to vote on every motion brought before the board, instead of just breaking ties.
Edwards suggests this could potentially lead to the board voting on a measure with only three aldermen and the mayor present, which is does not include the majority of aldermen.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “Why would you take the voice away from the people and have less people representing them?”
Mayor Justin Hanson said the revision doesn’t change representation.
“Nobody’s vote is being increased or minimized. It’s not changing the way we do business, everyone will still have the same voting power and voting rights. No one vote outweighs another.”
The last time the board could not proceed with a meeting due to lack of quorum was prior to 2018 when, at one meeting, Edwards and former aldermen Drew Glass and Minnie Bommer were all absent. It has not been an ongoing problem.
Hanson said the charter revisions came about after the termination of a department head two years ago when it was determined the code did not have consistent policies for the dismissal of department heads.
“We found several instances where the charter was inconsistent with the code,” Hanson said of the effort at revision. “There have been no significant changes made since 2006.”
The revision was drafted through the efforts of city attorney Rachel Witherington, Muncipal Technical Advisor Ronnie Neill and code enforcement director Lessie Fisher. It was first proposed in October, but at that time the aldermen chose to allow the incoming board to take it up.
Edwards, a second-generation alderman who previously served District 1 from 2005 to 2018, was elected in November as was Chris Richardson.
Edwards likens the charter revision to reducing the division of power.
“It means you can do what you want without the consent of three alderman,” he said, noting that the president submits a budget and congress votes on it, the governor submits a budget and the general assembly votes on it and in the county and city the mayors submit budgets for aldermen to approve.
“And now we’ll have some kind of hybrid government where the mayor submits a budget and he votes on it, too. It’s almost like you’re asking yourself for permission to go get a cookie out of the kitchen.”
Neill told the board in December that it wasn’t common amongst other cities to give the mayor a vote, but it does happen.
Also included in the revision is a decrease in the number of readings required to pass an ordinance from three to two – Covington is the only Tipton County municipality requiring three readings and is also the only one whose board meets twice monthly – as well as clear language prohibiting potential candidates from using business addresses to qualify for an election and the creation of a design review commission.
Edwards thinks the revision is being rushed through, as well, but Hanson said it must get to Nashville by the end of the month to get on the calendar for the 112th General Assembly.
Bommer, who missed the last month of her term due to a medical emergency in October, is expected to speak at tonight’s meeting and will encourage board members to vote against the revision.
There is still the chance the resolution does not pass Tuesday, which would mean it would be on the agenda for discussion by the Finance and Administration Committee on Jan. 19 and could be voted on again by the board on Jan. 26.