Too Many Tennessean Politicians Are Serving Two Masters

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other.”—Matthew 6:24

Image Credit: Alpha Stock ImagesNick YoungsonCC & Public Domain

By William Haupt III [Tennessee Watchdog Journalist, Columnist, Author, and Citizen Legislator] –

Speaker Tip O’Neill once told us, “Since most every politician starts their political career in local government all politics are local.”  This is such an epic statement it ought to be etched on the wall of every U.S. classroom. No student should graduate who can’t answer this right on their civics test.  

County government is the oldest and most tangible governing body in our union. They are the 1st administrators for the state and responsible for enforcing their laws. Management and execution of all core functions in our lives emanate from county government. One would think we’d only elect those with the highest degree of integrity and trust to run county governments? Well—think again. 

How many working stiffs would like to write company policy, give themselves raises, pocket two paychecks from the same business each week, have dual pensions and an unlimited source of tax revenue to pay for this? Believe it or not this takes place every day in our local governments. 

Nepotism, (Latin nepotem) first appeared in the 17th Century. Popes would anoint their nephews as cardinals who in turn would choose the next pope. This was contagious and it crept into global   politics. Today it thrives in politics everywhere, especially in Tennessee local county governments. 

This is simply referred to as favoritism, cronyism, and patronization. In the South, it’s the “good ol boy’s curse”. But a spade is a spade, and by any other name it is nepotism. Any form of nepotism abrogates democracy. And nepotism is the most destructive and well hidden form of malfeasance.

Most states have laws to prohibit “double dipping”; an illicit practice of obtaining income from two mutual sources, such as two paychecks from the same government. This is more than a conflict of interest. It can easily lead to pandering and the patronizing of special interests, and outright abuse. In Tennessee, county commissions are filled with commissioners who also get county paychecks?  

There is an absolute conflict of interest for every county employee who serves as a commissioner. The actions of the commission directly affect the duties, salary, promotional opportunities and other aspects of county employment. Therefore it isn’t possible to serve multiple county masters equally. 

The perception of favoritism and “insider dealing” will always be present within the commissioner employee scenario, whether it is real or not.  When the public loses confidence in the integrity of government at any level, the effectiveness and rectitude of a government is forever in question. 

A county employee is paid to serve the people by doing the county’s business. The commissions determine what that business is, how it is to be conducted, how it is budgeted, and how employees are compensated. These are decisions only representatives of the people should make; not county employees. These decisions are always dubitable with county employees on county commissions.  

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Unlike a commissioner who is employed outside county government in the private sector, a county employee who receives a paycheck from the county government, and is also serving as a county commissioner is being paid to do conflicting jobs with our tax dollars. Taxpayers are being cheated when a county employee is focused on commission business rather than the job they are paid to do as a county employee. The taxpayer is not getting what they paid for and that is unacceptable.

The questionable practice of employee-commissioners violates the core concept of representative government. If government is allowed to represent itself, instead of the people who own it, then the people are at the mercy of government’s appetite for money, power and control. When government controls laws and policies instead of citizen representatives this breaches our democratic contract. 


Article VII of the Tennessee State Constitution establishes the symmetry of county government.

“A county is a political subdivision of the state, and therefore it obligates that county commissioners are accountable to the same standards of integrity and moral virtue as other state elected officers. For example; most all state employees have had to quit state jobs to run for elected State Office.

In 2015 one citizen lawmaker wrote legislation to end this nepotistic practice in Tennessee; HB 985 Rodgers and SB 466 Bell. The bill disqualified any county government employee from serving as a member of the county legislative body. Current members of the county legislature were exempted. 

Unfortunately the bill was amended to “only prohibit” a member of a county legislative body from voting on matters in which they have a conflict of interest; “which nullified the entire intent of the bill!” 

Lobbyists successfully convinced committee members that this bill denied government employees their right to run for office like every other citizen, yet that was not true. Anyone has the right to run for an elected office but they do not have a right to create a conflict of interest in doing so. This bill did not limit any government employee from running for any office in any other county in the state! 

County employees and county commissioners serve county citizens in mutually incompatible ways.

It is a citizen’s right to have a county commissioner who will conduct the county’s business without conflict of interest. If a county employee has a desire to enter into public service, that individual can seek employment in any position they desire that does not erode public confidence in government.

County commissions are the farm systems for state government. Many state officials cut their teeth on county commissions. These are the same people we eventually send to Washington. Therefore the people we elect as county commissioners must meet meritorious standards and have the same moral integrity we expect in state government, as well as in those that wish to run for federal office. 

While everyone in America is focused on the continual abuse of our Constitutional and State rights by Washington progressives, our county commissions are adding “liberal” county employees every election. With the biggest threat to our democracy coming from the lowest form of government – the “direct democracy” that “we the people” have the most control over, and is the one “we show the least interest in.”  

“All politics are local!” The lower down the food chain nepotism exists, the more dangerous it is. Since local government incubates our future state and federal officials, purifying local government is the only way to ensure we have unbiased conservative representative democracy in Tennessee.  Strong county governments create a better state. Since county government has the greatest effect on our lives, it is time we disallow county employees to serve on the county commissions they work for. 

“People expect humility and honesty from public servants. Public employees can never be effective public servants since public servants are paid to serve the people, not themselves.” –Amit Kalantri 


William Haupt III is a retired professional journalist, author, and citizen legislator in California for over 40 years. He got his start working to approve California Proposition 13. His work also appears in The Center SquareThe Western JournalNeighbor NewspapersKPXJ 21 (Shreveport, LA)Killeen Daily HeraldAberdeen American NewsInsideNovaKankakee Daily JournalMonterey County WeeklyOlean Times HeraldThe Greeneville Sun and more. Follow William on Twitter @iii_haupt.

2 thoughts on “Too Many Tennessean Politicians Are Serving Two Masters

  • January 3, 2022 at 4:54 pm

    Such is the problem with “career politicians”. Do any other kind still exist?

    That the writer is only concerned about Tenn. politicians serving only two “masters”, either exposes the writer’s naivete or the good luck of Tenn. voters.

  • January 5, 2022 at 2:11 am

    I have been reading William’s columns for years and he writes for a national watchdog news organization also about national political and legal issues. This column is not about career politicians, or national politics, it is about local government and the problems we have here in our own back yard. We need to address and fix them if we ever want to fix Washington. He is right. If we do no focus on our local governments and elect the most credible people there, we will never fix Washington. This is a Tennessee paper and the Tennessee Conservative is dedicated to keeping Tennessee conservative and the only way to do that is to elect the right people at the lowest form of government.


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