Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Under Fire: Gas commissioners change vote

Only one month after members of the Unicoi County Gas Utility District Board of Commissioners voted to appoint commissioners instead of holding an election, the board OK’d a request to rescind the resolution.
Last month’s 4-1 vote came after the law changed in 2004 giving utility districts the option of holding elections or mayoral appointment of commissioners.
Under the appointment the utility’s manager would develop a list of three potential commissioners to submit to the mayor. The mayor can pick the commissioner from the list or not respond. If he chooses not to respond within 21 days, the board would then be allowed to appoint a commissioner from their list.
Even though officials say appointments are the preferred method, the decision has drawn fire from gas customers — including more than 20 that attended last week’s meeting. The customers were concerned that their right to vote was taken away.
“You took my rights away,” Erwin resident Dennis Ingram said. “Who gave you the authority to speak for me? This is a public-owned utility.”
In addition, one commissioner, Don Honeycutt, who cast the lone vote opposing the appointment still felt that the decision should still be left to voters.
“I stated then that I was opposed to it and I state again tonight that I’m opposed to it,” Honeycutt said. “I don’t feel it’s right. I don’t think it’s doing the customer justice.”
UCGUD General Manager Tim Whitson explained that the reason for the vote was a low voter turnout and the expense of each election.
“This didn’t start with something negative … it’s not like we sit around at night and try to think up some ways to make people mad,” Whitson said. “It didn’t start out like that, I promise you.”
Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch was pleased that the board had voted to rescind the resolution and said he was opposed to appointments from the beginning.
“I’m happy with their decision,” Lynch said. “I was an unwilling participant to begin with. I feel like letting the people vote is the right thing to do.”
After discussion, Ingram asked commissioners if they would be willing to rescind their resolution and they unanimously agreed to do so.
According to the board’s attorney, David Shults, another resolution must be drafted asking the state representative and senator to sponsor legislation to allow the district to return to the election method.