Brooks goes to bat for utility customers

Sandra Clark
Editor

State Rep. Harry Brooks has slipped on a three-cornered hat and gone to war over taxation without representation. Brooks wants consumers to be represented on utility boards, such as KUB.

“We want some level of representation for the folks served by the utility,” he said.

His bill (HB 0269/SB 0684 by Ken Yager) was slated to be heard Feb. 21 in a subcommittee of the House Business and Utilities committee. In an interview last week, Brooks anticipated amendments and promised a more comprehensive explanation after that hearing.

This bill will draw lobbyists like flies to honey. Utilities are iceberg governments – operating mostly out of sight with autonomy to set rates for vital services.

Some charge more for the same service to customers who live outside the municipal boundaries. Many have buy-out provisions and pensions for top execs to rival athletic departments; often they co-opt the very commissioners chosen to oversee them with benefits like health insurance and trips to tradeshows.

Godspeed, Brooks and Yager.

Partisan elections

State Rep. “Landslide Eddie” Smith has introduced a bill to require municipal elections in cities 100,000 or larger and all of the state’s school boards to be partisan. His bill (HB1039/SB0582 by Delores Gresham) allows political parties to nominate candidates.

Leaving the cities to fend for themselves, let’s assume this bill is a reaction to Knox County’s last two school board elections.

Fed up with Superintendent Jim McIntyre’s high-handed treatment of teachers (among other things), several educators mounted successful campaigns: Patti Bounds, Terry Hill and Amber Rountree in 2014; Tony Norman, Jennifer Owen and Susan Horn in 2016. Suddenly, Mike McMillan found allies while Lynne Fugate and Gloria Deathridge saw their former majority eroded. McIntyre resigned.

Would partisan elections have prevented McIntyre’s woes? Doubtful.

McMillan and Norman had previously won election to county commission as Republicans; Bounds and Hill are long-time Republicans; Horn had solid support in Farragut where she was active in the campaign of Republican state Rep. Jason Zachary. Political allegiances are less clear for Rountree and Owen, but Owen represents District 2, a toss-up area previously represented on the commission by Democrat Amy Broyles.

So the anti-McIntyre majority is firm – with or without partisan elections.

If Smith’s bill passes, however, it could have the unintended consequence of getting education activists involved in partisan politics at the district level … and their next election just might be to run for the Legislature.

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