(Updated 12/23/19 for clarity and accuracy)
There’s no quit in Knox County Commissioner John Schoonmaker. That trait was obvious when I came to know him about 12 years ago and is just as apparent today.
Certainly, members of the Tennessee County Services Association (TCSA) recognized it when they elected him to serve on the organization’s board of directors. Schoonmaker, who represents District 5 on the commission, is the first Knox County commissioner to serve on the board in 20 years.
It’s a singular honor. Schoonmaker will represent 510 county commissioners and 33 counties in East Tennessee on the board.
“It is an honor and a privilege to represent the citizens of southwest Knox County and to serve on the TCSA Board of Directors,” he said.
Schoonmaker cut his political teeth as a member of the Council of West Knox County Homeowners. He served as president of the Council for 11 years.
Five years of service on the Knox County Board of Zoning Appeals (two years as chair) added to his working knowledge of county government. After attempts to win election, he won appointment to the commission seat when then-Commissioner Richard Briggs was elected to the state Senate. He then was elected to a full term.
“I put in about 30 hours a week on commission duties,” Schoonmaker said.
He chairs the finance committee and the legislative affairs committee and is a member of the investment and audit committees. It isn’t hard to see how the hours stack up.
Schoonmaker is one of nine commissioners who will take part in this year’s charter review. (The two at-large commissioners do not serve on the committee.) He expects a contentious discussion around appointing versus continuing to elect the county law director.
Mayor Jacobs favors appointment, but Schoonmaker is not persuaded. In language I’ve heard from other quarters, he says citizens’ right to elect the law director should not be taken away.
As a member of the TCSA board, Schoonmaker will participate in the review of around 350 bills which will come before state lawmakers during the legislative session. Bills that affect county government are the focus.
Schoonmaker authored one of those bills, the culmination of a quest that began over three years ago. The current versions are HB 1193, sponsored by Rep. Dave Wright, formerly the District 8 commissioner, and SB 1126, sponsored by Sen. Briggs.
The bill would reduce the 1.125 percent fee charged by the Tennessee Department of Revenue for processing local option sales tax collections to .5 percent. Based on last year’s collections, the reduction would trim more than $1 million from the fee charged to Knoxville, Knox County and Farragut.
It’s unlikely the state will quietly acquiesce. Schoonmaker, however, is not easily discouraged. He waited years to gain his commission seat – he can probably outwait the “revenooers.”
Larry Van Guilder is the business/government editor for KnoxTNToday.