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Editorial: And so it goes in Hawkins County politics

Editorial Board • Nov 7, 2018 at 1:05 PM

In reporting on the Aug. 2 general election, we wrote, “If Hawkins County voters were looking for change, that’s what they got Thursday night. Aside from picking retired state trooper Jim Lee as the new mayor, Hawkins County voted in 13 new members on the 21-member County Commission.”

Indeed, Lee campaigned on the issue of change. “I have become very concerned about the direction Hawkins County is going,” he said. “We have to change the way we do things.

It’s too early to determine long-term change in Hawkins County politics under this new administration and commission, but there is something that apparently hasn’t changed.

During the Sept. 24 meeting, commissioners voted to allow Mayor Lee to appoint members of County Commission committees, despite that Lee had opted out of being named chairman of the commission as has been the usual practice.

But when that list came out, two commissioners were left off the commission’s nine main committees where most county business is discussed and recommendations to the full commission are made.

They are Commissioners Jeff Barrett and Hannah Speaks.

During the campaign, Lee also stated, “If elected I will work for the whole county and not a select few. Everyone will be treated equally.” But Commissioners Barrett and Speaks have not been treated equally. They are the only commissioners who were not appointed to one of those main committees.

Perhaps it’s just the luck of the draw. Or perhaps it had something to do with the fact that when the commission voted on who would chair the commission in Mayor Lee’s stead, Commissioner Speaks nominated Commissioner Barrett. Barrett was defeated by Mike Herrell by a vote of 10-9, but that vote was null because the winner must receive 11 votes. Herrell won the second vote 13-8.

The slight was not lost on Speaks when the commission then voted to approve committees.

“I’m a new commissioner, and maybe I’m the only one, but I can tell you that not the mayor, not the chair, not a single person asked me for my resume. No one asked me for my work history. No one asked me for my experience,” Speaks told the commission.

“I think that we all, during our campaign season, ran on change,” Speaks told her fellows, “that we wanted change. The people of Hawkins County wanted change. I feel like if we vote these committees in as they are, as stacked as they are, then we are doing a disservice to our constituents and to the taxpayers of Hawkins County.”

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