Knoxville City Charter ballot amendments explained

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) – If you’re a resident of the city of Knoxville, you’ll notice several amendments to the City Charter on the ballot when you vote this year, whether you vote early or wait until Election Day.

Three of the proposals involve changes to the city employee pension system. None of the changes would increase any retiree benefits and would have no public expense. The fourth deals with moving the date of the city primary election.

Related: East Tennessee early voting locations, hours

Proposed Charter Amendment No. 1: Changing the date of the city’s primary election

SHALL ARTICLE VII, SECTION 702(A) OF THE CHARTER OF THE CITY OF KNOXVILLE, ENTITLED “TIME AND PLACE OF ELECTIONS,” BE AMENDED SO AS TO CHANGE THE DATE OF THE PRIMARY ELECTION FOR THE OFFICES OF MAYOR, MUNICIPAL JUDGE AND MEMBERS OF THE CITY COUNCIL FROM THE LAST TUESDAY IN SEPTEMBER IN ODD NUMBERED YEARS TO THE LAST TUESDAY IN AUGUST IN ODD NUMBERED YEARS, ALL AS MORE FULLY SET FORTH IN ORDINANCE No. O-125-2016 OF THE CITY OF KNOXVILLE AS DULY PUBLISHED?

If charter amendment number one is approved, the date of the city primary election would move from the last Tuesday in September in odd-numbered years to the last Tuesday in August in odd-numbered years. The city says the move is to allow enough time for election workers to prepare and mail ballots for the November general election in an organized and timely manner. Knox County Administrator of Elections Cliff Rodgers says the current six-week turnaround is problematic.

Rodgers also says the schedule also creates operational difficulties because voting machine tests are required following certification of the primary election and before early voting in the regular election begins. In 2015, the voting machines had to be programmed for the general election before the primary election results were certified – meaning if the primary election results were changed, the election commission would have had to reprogram the voting machines at the city’s expense.

Proposed Charter Amendment No. 2: Qualified domestic relations orders and military service

SHALL ARTICLE XIII OF THE CITY OF KNOXVILLE CHARTER, ENTITLED “PENSIONS,” BE AMENDED TO PROVIDE FOR PAYMENTS TO AN ALTERNATE PAYEE PURSUANT TO A QUALIFIED DOMESTIC RELATIONS ORDER IN ACCORDANCE WITH A CHANGE IN STATE LAW AND TO BRING THE PROVISIONS OF THE SYSTEM RELATED TO MILITARY SERVICE IN FULL COMPLIANCE WITH FEDERAL LAW, ALL AS MORE FULLY SET FORTH IN ORDINANCE NO. O-126-2016 OF THE CITY OF KNOXVILLE AS DULY PUBLISHED?

If this amendment is approved, the city says it would be easier for divorced parties to equally divide marital properties. The pension board would be able to make payments directly to a former spouse or child, as an “alternate payee.”

The pension board would also be allowed to divide a benefit following the death of a member prior to retirement and make payments to both an alternate payee and a death beneficiary. Housekeeping language is also added to make the charter in compliance with federal law in the military service section.

Proposed Charter Amendment No. 3: Death and disability benefits

SHALL ARTICLE XIII OF THE CITY OF KNOXVILLE CHARTER, ENTITLED “PENSIONS,” BE AMENDED TO REVISE THE DEFAULT DEATH BENEFIT PROVISIONS AND TO CLARIFY DISABILITY BENEFITS, ALL AS MORE FULLY SET FORTH IN ORDINANCE NO. O-127-2016 OF THE CITY OF KNOXVILLE AS DULY PUBLISHED?

The death and disability benefits amendment is designed to clarify several “housekeeping” measures, according to the city. Included are provisions to clarify the default death benefit for the family of an employee who dies before retirement without having finalized certain beneficiary paperwork. A 2014 amendment limited joint and survivor annuity beneficiaries to spouses, meaning the default benefit no longer functions as intended for unmarried people. This would change the default death benefit in these cases to a 10-year certain and life annuity.

Another provision would plainly state that no one could murder someone and then remain eligible to collect their pension benefits.

Former firefighters or police officers who want to be eligible for disability benefits for injuries not sustained in the line of duty would have to make that claim while still employed with the city. Other city employees are already held to similar limitations.

The amendment also adds language revoking the designation of a spouse as a beneficiary of a pre-retirement option upon divorce, unless that designation is made after the divorce is finalized.

Proposed Charter Amendment No. 4: Supplemental plan provisions

SHALL ARTICLE XIII OF THE CITY OF KNOXVILLE CHARTER, ENTITLED “PENSIONS,” BE AMENDED TO REVISE THE PROVISIONS RELATED TO ADOPTION OF SUPPLEMENTAL PLAN PROVISIONS SO AS TO PERMIT ADOPTION OF SUPPLEMENTAL PLAN PROVISIONS AS NECESSARY TO COMPLY WITH STATE OR FEDERAL LAW, ALL AS MORE FULLY SET FORTH IN ORDINANCE NO. O-128-2016 OF THE CITY OF KNOXVILLE AS DULY PUBLISHED?

The charter already allows the adoption of Supplemental Plan Provisions when necessary to amend the pension system to comply with IRS requirements for qualified plans. This amendment would modify charter provisions to also allow adoption of SPPs where required to comply with state or federal law. It would also allow the pension board, rather than just the mayor, to recommend SPPs to city council.

More online: City of Knoxville City Charter Amendments

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