January 8th Meeting: Knox County Law Director, Bill Lockett
Join us at our new meeting place, Estelitas Mexican restaurant at 120 West End Ave....just down from our previous meeting place. www.estelitas.com / 671-8226.
Lockett looks to clear up 'fee,' 'charter' misconceptions
County law director sets record straight at Concord-Farragut GOP club
Alan Sloan - Fri, Jan, 9, 2009
Bill Lockett speaks to Concord-Farragut Republican Club.- Alan Sloan/farragutpress
Bill Lockett used his appearance before Concord-Farragut Republican Club to clear up what he said were misconceptions of his positions concerning fee offices and charter amendments.
Central among the Knox County Law Director’s points of clarification — made to about 25 club members during its Thursday, Jan. 8, monthly meeting in Estelita’s restaurant — was his level of advocacy for how the county’s independently elected fee offices could come under budgetary control of County Commission.
Meeting with recently formed Knox County Audit Committee concerning “reputational issues” of local voters and consumers Tuesday, Jan. 6, Lockett said, “During that discussion the budget process was talked about, across the board for the entire county government.”
The law director then said he laid out how his department submits its budget versus the current fee offices, which file a “salary suit” to compensate office employees.
Because the County Law Director’s department is under the “executive branch,” Lockett said he submits his budget to Finance Department, “and the Finance Department then incorporates that into the overall county budget, which is submitted to County Commission for approval.”
Lockett said “apparently, some of the members of the [audit] committee thought, ‘great, let’s do that, let’s change how the fee offices do it as opposed to the way its done now,’ and so I was asked to put something in writing.
“At that point I said, ‘wow, wait a minute, before I do anything like that, you, the audit committee, needs to have a very serious debate about whether, in fact, that is a good idea.’”
Lockett said the change would be “a very radical change in the structure of county government” and the issue is part of the audit committee’s March agenda. It ultimately would need County Commission approval.
But one club member spoke up and said such a fee office change recently “was proposed” to County Commission “… and it was hammered [defeated] 18-to-1.”
Lockett replied, “I appreciate you pointing that out, I wasn’t around back then.”
Lockett referred to a Knoxville News Sentinel “fee office” story, published Wednesday, Jan. 7, that came under criticism from a handful of club members during the meeting for misrepresenting the law director.
Lockett, quoted in the story as saying “some citizens were concerned that ‘fiefdoms’ had been set up in fee offices,” said his "feifdom" reference was a “failed tough-in-check” remark the reporter misunderstood. Instead, Lockett said he meant, “that it had been reported so often that these fee offices were fiefdoms.”
The law director said he has inadvertently “succeeded in alienating both sides of the charter amendment argument.” He explained this fee office issue was quite different from how fee offices would have been affected had a November charter amendment referendum passed. It was soundly defeated by Knox voters.
“What was defeated in November was the prospect of these fee offices no longer being elected positions but being appointed positions,” he said. “And the executive not only having appointment power, but the power to restructure those offices.
“And some of the bloggers, I think incorrectly, jumped to the conclusion that what was discussed in the audit committee is a backdoor method of doing the same thing. And it’s not,” Lockett added. “All that it was talking about was the budget process — period, end of discussion. … It’s really the legislative body [County Commission] that controls the budget process.”
Lockett also refuted he had “rewritten” charter amendment ballot language on charter amendments 3 and 4.
He said “state law” requires that if such charter amendment language, “as it’s actually going to appear in the charter,” is more than 1,000 words, “The Law Director is required to draft summaries, and those summaries have to be 200 words or less.”
Furthermore, the summary “is to be clear, cogent and use words with common, everyday meanings,” he added. “They wanted it drafted in a way where the average person that walks into the voting booth can read it and understand it.”
• Lockett said he was “pleased” by a recent “memorandum of understanding” between Knox County Sheriff’s Office, Knoxville Police Department and Knox County Schools System concerning the roles of school safety officers. KPD and KCSS already had such an agreement, Lockett said. “It’s been, I think, a long time coming,” the law director added. “It’s not a panacea, but it is another piece of the puzzle as far as making sure the schools are as safe as they can be.
“It also represents something I think is equally important … it’s symbolic of a cooperative effort between different departments in county government.”
• The law director said one important recommendation has resulted from the reinstitution of Knox County Code Commission, which happened “by vote of the County Commission last year.”
The Law Director’s office — with unanimous consent of the Code Commission — will recommend to County Commission that with each ordinance they pass, “There will be with that ordinance short official comments … [as] interpreted aids to look at by lawyers for courts to look at where they’re called upon to determine what did the legislative body mean when they passed a particular statute.”
Lockett said the task would be “a fairly big undertaking” but added, “it’s something I’m excited about.”
• Lockett also said his office would, in cooperation “with the clerk’s office,” increase efforts to collect outstanding court-related fees.