Sullivan Co. Commission members attempt to oust mayor as chairperson

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SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn (WJHL)- Confusion broke out at Thursday night’s Sullivan County Commission meeting as a group of commissioners wanted to vote on a board chairperson  – and potentially replace Mayor Richard Venable in the role.

 “It wasn’t on the agenda, but I think other members had a different idea about that,” said Commissioner Michael Cole.

Commissioner Todd Broughton spoke out, saying it was September and time for the annual election of a chairperson. But Mayor Venable wasn’t there – absent due to surgery. Other commission members who may have supported Venable’s reelection as chair were absent as well.

“There were a few commissioners absent,” Cole said. “I think they tried to jump on that opportunity, take advantage of the situation. But I mean, this is politics, that’s what happens.”

But Broughton said the vote was necessary to be in compliance with Tennessee state code. This code says legislative bodies – like the commission – are to elect their chair at their first meeting on or after September 1st. 

“It’s black and white,” Broughton said. “It says you are to appoint the first meeting in September. That was my confusion why it didn’t come up.”

But Sullivan County rules are in conflict with this state code.

“I looked into it, and I found that the county rules say it’s to be done in October,” said Sullivan County Attorney Dan Street. “The Commissioner said that last year they elected the chairman in September, so it’s possible that it’s varied over the years.”

This inconsistency between county and state rules caused disagreement among the commission. Broughton believes the mayor’s absence influenced whether a vote occurred or not.

“As a county commissioner you have a duty to perform,” Broughton said. You perform that duty whether or not you have a full commission there. If someone’s out sick, I hope they recover well, I hope everything goes good. That doesn’t stop our work from occurring.”

Eventually the commission voted on whether to suspend the county’s October rule and vote that night instead. This vote failed with only ten commissioners in favor.

Going forward, Broughton and other commissioners still want a chairperson who isn’t mayor. 

“We’re the only county where the mayor is the chairman of the commission. In all our surrounding counties, it’s a commissioner,” said Broughton.

“In Sullivan County, the county mayor has been the commission chair ever since I’ve been county attorney, which is 25 years,” said Street.

“The problem I’ve heard a lot of my constituents have – is have the same people in leadership over and over and over,” Broughton said. “We’ve got to get different people in leadership positions so they can learn how to run things.”

The mayor, who had surgery Friday morning, was unable to respond to News Channel 11’s request for comment.

“I wish we could all work together as group to find common ground,” said Cole. “Overall it’s what we can do to better benefit the residents of Sullivan County. That’s the decision that we all need to make.”

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