By Bill Short
As family members and friends watched, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen was sworn in to a new term Sunday afternoon in the Board Chamber at City Hall.
With District 32 State Sen. Mark Norris administering the Oath of Office individually to the board members, they vowed to support the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions, the Millington City Charter and ordinances and to “faithfully and impartially” perform all their duties.
They affirmed that they are not under any direct or indirect obligation to approve the appointment of any person as a police officer, firefighter or any other position in the city.
They also swore that they will not have any “direct” interest in any contracts made by the city and will “publicly disclose” any “indirect” interest they may have in them.
Terry Jones has served as mayor from 2005-2008 and from 2013 to the present. He won a third term two months ago by defeating Position 6 Alderman Chris Ford, who was also the city’s vice mayor.
Aldermen Frankie Dakin, Larry Dagen and Thomas McGhee won second terms in Positions 3-5 by defeating Roger Henderson, Sherrie Hopper and Don Holsinger, respectively.
Former alderman Don Lowry won a fourth term by defeating Jon Crisp for Ford’s open Position 6 seat.
Position 7 Alderman Mike Caruthers was unopposed in his election to a third term.
Missy Boyd Ervin defeated Bethany Huffman’s bid for a second term as Position 1 alderman, and Hank Hawkins won a second term in Position 2 by defeating Al Bell. But they both resigned on Sunday, because they are employees of the municipal school system.
Section 3.04 of the City Charter states that any city employee, other than an elected official, who seeks an elected city position must resign from that job no later than the date on which the candidate’s qualifying petition is filed with the Shelby County Election Commission.
And a Tennessee attorney general’s opinion states that employees of a municipal school system are employees of the city in which the system is located.
When Hawkins was first elected as an alderman in August 2012, he was a longtime employee of the Shelby County School System. But when Millington created a municipal school system by ordinance in 2013, he became an employee of that system.
City Attorney Charles Perkins has said Hawkins’ service until the end of 2016 was “not in question,” because a “constitutional provision” prohibited that term from being “shortened.”
But last month, Perkins gave the board a written opinion stating the city’s position that Hawkins could not continue to serve as both an alderman and a school system employee.
So, at a special meeting immediately after they were sworn in, the five aldermen voted unanimously to accept the two resignations and appoint Huffman and Bell to fill the vacancy in Positions 1 and 2.
During discussion shortly before the appointment vote, Caruthers said the board needs to “fix this” by a Charter amendment within the next two years.
“In a small town like Millington,” he noted, “it’s very difficult to get people to run for office. And we’re limiting ourselves if we don’t let the people who are employed indirectly by the city.”
Dakin agreed, calling this “an unfortunate situation.” He said he does not believe that prohibiting Ervin and Hawkins from occupying the positions “fits the spirit of the law” in the Charter.
“Our hands are tied,” he acknowledged, “but make no mistake that this is an embarrassment. And I don’t think we need to sweep it under the rug.”
Caruthers said the board needs to “work on a distinction” between a “direct” and an “indirect” city employee.
Huffman and Bell were sworn in shortly after the meeting was adjourned. They will serve in the positions until the next election in 2018.
By Bill Short