Contributed by John Haley, Mt. Juliet
I was very pleased to return home to Wilson County after being gone for 49 years as I considered Lebanon and Wilson County home since I grew up here from the fifth grade. While attending Lebanon High School, I enlisted in the Air Force, served over 26 years in uniform and another 20+ as a civilian, and for a short time, I worked with the state of Colorado as a hearings officer.
Over the years I had become extremely proud of my home state being a Volunteer fan and hearing tales of the Tennessee income tax revolt as well as the Battle of Athens in 1946 when citizens foiled an attempt to steal a county election.
I regaled fellow Airmen with tales of my home state as I traveled half way around the world living in two foreign nations and visiting over 15 other nations and territories. I visited several with great governments and many with corrupt governments. I would proudly state that none were as good as my home state and county.
Upon returning about three years ago, imagine my amazement at finding the Wilson County Government appearing in some respects like some third world nations: 7 of 25 county commissioners were county or school employees, several others had ties directly and indirectly to the county employees, and some county employees are employed in more than one county position.
Therefore, it came as no surprise when, by a vote of 13 to 9 with 2 abstentions, the County Commission voted against supporting a state legislative bill, HB 1481, which would make it unlawful for county employees to serve on county commissions across the state as is the practice currently in Lebanon, Mt. Juliet and Metro Nashville. This seems to be a prima fascia case of conflict of interest.
A year or two ago when a vote was taken to increase property taxes, I was shocked by the number of commissioners who had to read a disclaimer about the vote being a possible conflict of interest but that they were voting their conscious. A comment made by a lady speaking against the increase stated, to paraphrase, that she was working 3 jobs, had taken pay cuts in two of those, and wished she could step across this fence and vote myself an increase salary.
The state legislature has recognized that employees serving in a legislative body produce, at the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest and introduced a bill to end that practice in TN counties. Not sure what the future holds for the HB 1481 bill but my hope is that the citizens of Wilson County will demand an end to this unseemly practice in the County.