Five Metro Charter amendments sit quietly on ballot, unlike others in years past

Sunday, October 28, 2012 at 11:34pm

Davidson County voters who work their way to the bottom of the ballot, past the races for the White House and the state legislature, will find something a little more mundane.

Five Metro Charter amendments received the required 27 Metro Council votes and will now be put to the people. The issues they address vary from the qualifications required of, and powers afforded to, public officials to the terminology used to refer to school crossing guards.

While proposed changes to the city’s founding document have stoked controversy in the past — for example, the “English only” amendment in 2009 — the current ones have received relatively little attention.

If any has drawn moderate scrutiny, it is an amendment proposed by the Metro Department of Law, which it said is meant to clarify the duties and abilities granted to the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office. Metro law director Saul Solomon told The City Paper that the amendment would clarify the sheriff’s authority to continue carrying out certain duties that were once assigned to the police department, and permit the Metro Council to assign other duties to the sheriff as well.

“There have been certain activities the sheriff has engaged in over the years, which the charter is kind of silent as to who has the authority to do, be it the sheriff’s department or the police,” he said. “I think the better view is that in absence of any specific delegation in the charter, that the council would have the right to designate that the sheriff can do certain things.”

According to the language of the amendment, those would include duties “relating to the intake, processing, identification, questioning and interrogation” of people in official custody. Given the time at which the proposal was filed — just as the Tennessee Supreme Court was mulling over the DCSO’s participation in the federal 287(g) immigration enforcement program — some saw the amendment as an attempt to ensure that the office could continue carrying out such duties, even if the court ruled that they could not do so as part of the 287(g) program.

As it happened, the sheriff’s office announced in August that it would be ending its participation in the program, and earlier this month the Supreme Court ruled that such participation was not in violation of the Metro Charter or state law. As a result, Dewey Branstetter, who chairs Metro’s Charter Revision Commission, said the amendment may actually be more restricting than the charter’s current language. While the Supreme Court ruled that the council can assign additional tasks to the sheriff on its own, he said, the amendment requires that the chief of police and the sheriff be in agreement for such a transfer of duties to occur.

Another amendment on the ballot, proposed by Councilman Charlie Tygard, would do away with the requirement that the Metro public works director be a licensed engineer. Tygard noted that the department’s last two directors have not been licensed engineers, and called the move “one of common sense” given the position’s changing job description.

In the early 1960s when the Charter was adopted, the feeling was the public works director needed to oversee the building & maintenance of bridges, roads & sidewalks,” Tygard said. “Since those early days, the public works department has evolved into so much more — garbage and brush collection, beautification, community cleanup days. The director now is more of a manager of different divisions and the overseer of consulting, paving contracts, etc.”

Tygard said the proposal has gotten some pushback from the engineering community, but that the change would reflect the reality that is effectively already in place and would “expand our pool of qualified managers.”

The remaining amendments are more straightforward. Two sponsored by Councilwoman Emily Evans are part of an ongoing effort to update various areas of the 50-year-old charter. One would rename the police department’s “school mothers’ patrol” as the “school crossing guard division.” The change will get rid of the last remnants of an old set of requirements for mothers as crossing guards.

“In the process, we discovered this code provision related to the ‘school mothers patrol,’ ” said Evans. “And it set forth certain requirements like the school mother had to be between 105 and 140 pounds, and once she got pregnant she couldn’t be a school mother patrol person.”

Evans’ other amendment would rename Metro Water Services as the Department of Watershed Management, the language currently used by the Environmental Protection Agency. Evans said the change would also clarify that Metro’s stormwater functions fall under the Metro water department, as they have for some time.

The fifth and final charter amendment would allow Metro employees to serve on a part-time basis as poll workers for the county’s election commission, which says that organizing the amount of workers it needs during election season is often a difficult task.

10 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 10/29/12 at 4:14

Why is Charlie Tygard always the one sponsoring the sorriest legislation, just like
this getting rid of Engineering degree for Public Works. The main reason is so
they can always put in a political person, versus a professional in a very high
paying and important job that does require degree. Vote "NO" on this amendment!

Metro employees helping run the elections, sound like a big problem just waiting
to happen and be taken advantage of to this reader. Another vote "No". 3-yes-2 no's.

By: bfra on 10/29/12 at 5:57

Metro already has too many retirees (rehired at $20+ per hr., that is more than they made per hr. before retirement), then working 16 hrs. per wk. so they can still draw their retirement. Get rid of those retirees soaking the taxpayers & hire people that need a job. If they wanted to keep working, why did they retire?

By: Kosh III on 10/29/12 at 6:36

I agree bfra. It still irks me to no end that Dean hired Jimmy Fyke to work 19 hrs per week and make 60 thousand and all he's done in the past 20 months is dole out money for more studies on the baseball stadium welfare proposal.

By: Rocket99 on 10/29/12 at 7:24

We do not need government employees at any level as poll workers. Just smacks of potential corruption.

By: Rocket99 on 10/29/12 at 7:25

Also, if the requirement to be an engineer is removed, the pay needs to be greatly reduced for the position.

By: pswindle on 10/29/12 at 10:08

Vote no on amendment 2 and 5. We shoudl be raising the standard not giving it to a non-engineer. Will ole Charlie apply for the job or one of his family members. I'm ready for Charlie to retire.

By: PKVol on 10/29/12 at 11:07

In response to the opposition to the amendment allowing metro employees being allowed to work as election officials:

Currently, anyone employed by Metro in any capacity is not allowed to work as an election official. This includes part-time and seasonal employees.

I work as a softball umpire in the Department of Parks and Recreation. Prior to starting this job, I was an Officer of Elections for 4 years, but because of my employement as an umpire, I am no longer able to work as an Officer of Elections which means my 4 years of experience and training were lost and replaced by someone who had not worked in that capacity. I had to make a decision as to which position I wanted to maintain, a part-time job lasting 4 months working 3-4 nights per week or a job where I worked 3-4 days per year.

Also, substitute & regular teachers are prohibited from working as election officials.

By restricting these able people from working, you are left with a less-qualified field of workers than you could get with allowing people who already demonstrate a proficiency to work with rules and regulations that can very easily translate to being qualified election workers.

Please think again before you consider the 'negatives' of allowing a pool of workers who are more than qualified to work.

You get what you allow, so if you don't like the way polling places are run or the qualifications and knowledge of the current poll workers, don't complain if you vote no for this amendment, because you have an opportunity to change this by voting yes.

By: govskeptic on 10/29/12 at 1:30

Having served on the jury pool at one time, about half the 100 or so there
were Metro Employees. We were often dismissed by 10 or 11 a.m. I'm sure
all those went straight back to work. Why on earth does PKVol think the poll
workers will be more qualified than the current if they are allowed to work there?

By: PKVol on 10/31/12 at 8:40

Because they are more attune to the changing technology that is becoming more and more prevalent in the election process. The whole situation with the electronic poll books used in the August primaries could have and probably would have been avoided if the pool of workers would have included people that work with technology on a daily basis.

Govskeptic, instead of assuming every metro employee is lazy and incompetent, why don't you assume that the greater majority are qualified and conscientious in doing the job they have been hired to do? There are a few bad apples, but I seriously doubt that those people would seek out a job where they work for at least 13 hours in one day for about $100 in pay. Have you ever worked as an election official? Applications are online at
I look forward to seeing you working the next election.

By: oldhickorytony on 11/6/12 at 6:09

Felt confident that the comments here would help me in making my final determinations... they did... whatever positions govskeptic carries forward, I'm against... thanks for your help, old bud...