Rep. Don Miller successfully ushered his changes to the local Morristown Utilities Commission appointment process through the Tennessee Legislature's State and Local Government Committee on March 27.
The voice vote was not unanimous, but Miller's fellow legislators were obviously prepared to stand with Miller regardless of their personal concerns about Miller's refusal to let the people vote on the change to the appointment process in a referendum in August 2012.
Having come out of committee, the MUC appointment process is ready for a final vote today during the House's 9 AM session. Unless Miller decides that HE wants to hear the voice of the people in a referendum, Miller's bill will let five people (Paul LeBel, Kay Senter, Bob Garrett, Chris Bivens, and Claude Jinks) override the votes of the 3,202 people who supported all MUC changes, including the current appointment process, in 2001.
The Committee was so lined up behind Miller that it wanted to refuse to allow comments by Morristown Mayor Danny Thomas. To his credit, Rep. Miller intervened to allow Mayor Thomas to speak briefly.
Mayor Thomas, unlike Miller, supports conducting a $250 referendum to see if the PEOPLE want to change the MUC appointment process that was part of a group of changes requested by MUC in 2001, approved by council in 2001, passed by the state legislature in 2001, and then approved by 72% of the people in a May 2001 referendum.
During the debate on HB 3860, Rep. Antonio Parkinson and Rep. Tommie Brown spoke passionately about respecting the votes of the people and the results of the 2001 referendum.
Rep. Tommie Brown then asked Rep. Miller if he would accept a friendly amendment to provide for a local referendum for approval of the MUC appointment changes. [See below for two updates]
[Update: On March 27, both Rep. Tommie Brown and Rep. Antonio Parkinson wanted to allow the Morristown voters to decide whether to change the appointment process. It was Rep. Antonio Parkinson who asked Rep. Miller if he would accept a friendly amendment to pass the bill with the provision that it return to Morristown voters as a referendum.]
Rep. Miller refused and stated that he considered an amendment for a referendum, letting the people
vote, as a "hostile" amendment.
[Update: In a previous committee hearing, Rep. Larry Miller had also asked Rep. Don Miller if he would permit a referendum. Rep. Don Miller at that time said "no."]
Miller opposes an August 2 referendum. Instead, Miller wants approval of the MUC appointment changes to come back to city council where FIVE votes are all that is needed to override and change the appointment process that 3,202 people put in place in the 2001 MUC Referendum. Miller knows that the five votes are currently in place (LeBel, Senter, Garrett, Bivens, Jinks). Miller is not sure what would happen if the people were allowed to speak in a referendum.
And that is the amazing situation we are in today.
Our local state representative is asked to allow a $250 referendum to let the people speak on proposed changes to the MUC appointment process and he says "no." Why?
Why does Miller oppose a referendum to let the people express their opinion but turns around and says he wants people to express their opinions directly to him by responding to a questionnaire?
If Rep. Miller REALLY wants the people's opinion on the appointment process and wants that opinion to be binding and expressed in the privacy of a voting booth, a referendum is the answer--just as it was in 2001.
Sen. Steve Southerland, who sponsored the same changes to the appointment process in the state senate, also opposed amending the bill to provide for a referendum. In perhaps the most bizarre action of all, Southerland refused to vote for his bill on March 8.
Why is our local senator sponsoring a bill but not voting for it? The statement that he doesn't want to appear "biased" is ridiculous. When you write a bill that affects your local government and you sponsor it, you own it. If you aren't willing to vote for a "local" act that you sponsored, you shouldn't carry the bill and ask other senators across the state---who aren't affected by it and whose constituents are not affected by it---to vote for it.
When a local senator opposes letting the people speak in a referendum, rewrites a bill, "sponsors" it, and then refuses to vote for it, who is behind this?
When a local representative rewrites a bill, "sponsors" it, says he wants the people to express their opinion to him but he does NOT want the voters' opinion in a referendum, who is behind this?
When five city councilmembers want to change a local law that was put in place by the people in a referendum but oppose letting the people speak again in a referendum, who is behind this?
It's not rocket science. It's George McGuffin.
It's McGuffin keeping control of MUC for another five years. It's McGuffin refusing to let anyone else be appointed to the MUC Board. It's changing the law for one person.
It's raw power and politics. It's money and McGuffin.