Guerrilla Law

Just do[n't do] it [anymore]

Putnam Pit Guerrilla Law columnist

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Politicians, cynics tell us, are like in-laws: impossible to get rid of once they move in.

As the Kingston Trio recently pointed out in Nashville: "If God had wanted us to have elections, he would have given us candidates."

But there is a cure for this dreadful phenomenon -- with politicians, at least, when they just won't stop what voters want them to stop.

The Cookeville city charter -- adopted in 1961 -- has no provision for recall, which is a procedure to remove an official from office. But what if a majority of voters wanted a simple, cheap process to remove unwanted political fat?

They could take action to amend the city charter. Here's how.

No city can be formed -- nor an existing one's charter amended -- without the consent of the state legislature. According to state law, a city is just an arm of state government and only has the powers and rights granted to it by what is known as a "private act." A private act is a law that has only local application as opposed to laws that have statewide force.

Therefore, to get a city charter amendment giving you the power to remove your elected officials if they, say, worshiped the devil or ran a pornography site on the Internet, the state legislature would have to pass another private act, which first would have to be introduced by the state senator or representative. Locally, the senator for district 15 is Democrat Tommy Burks, (district address, 18131 Crossville Highway, Monterey, TN, 38574) and the Cookeville representative in the Tennessee House for District 42 is Democrat Jere Hargrove, whose district address is 761 Loweland Road, Cookeville, TN, 38501.

Passage of private acts is virtually assured when thus submitted, and the act is then submitted to voters for approval.

While senators or representatives can introduce private acts on their own initiative, they generally prefer a request from the local city council before they put their political posteriors on the line.

But what is the council refused to bow to public sympathy and the senator or representative, possibly a good ol' boy of the same party as the majority of the council, also refused?

Voters could adopt an ordinance-resolution changing the charter by the same method used to defeat the recently voter-scorned hospital lease endeavor: submit a petition signed by 10 percent of the voters in the last election and have the charter change submitted to the voters requesting that the change be adopted by the legislature.

In my opinion, it is extremely doubtful that our elected representatives in the legislature would ignore a majority-vote request to change the charter. It would be neither advisable nor "politically correct" in a democracy.

Next, we will look at recall of state officers, and other changes in the city charter that might be looked at in the future.