Knox County Commission Down to 11 Members

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Knoxville (WVLT) - The Knox County Commission is down to 11 members, after the County Chancellor ruled 8 seats were nullified after a jury found the Commission in violation of the state's Open Meetings Act.

Volunteer TV's Kim Bedford has the details.

Chancellor Daryl Fansler ruled the eight commissioners are eligible to be reappointed but it's not clear yet how or when that will happen.

Knox County Law Director John Owings wants to get the commission seats filled on November 5th and the four county-wide seats on November 19th, and will offer the commission some ideas on how to do it later this month.

Volunteer TV spoke to several county commissioners after the ruling came down and many have questions about the future.

Confusion registered on the faces of several Knox County commissioners when they were trying to understand Chancellor Fansler's 16 page ruling Friday.

"I would've preferred a more clear road map so we could look at it and say, here's what we need to do to rectify this situation," said commissioner Mike Hammond.

Fansler nullified the 12 appointments made on January 31st, leaving the commission with only 11 members until the seats are filled.

"Six members are a quorum. That puts a lot of power in the hands of six people, so I would really have liked to see a special election of some kind to let people decide these positions, because these people will serve until September of next year," said Hammond.

Hammond isn't alone in his opinion.

"Let's take it back to an election, knock County Commission completely out of it. Let's let the people make the decision," said Larry Smith, commissioner in District 7.

"I wish we could have a special election 'cause it's really too hard trying to pick successors," said commissioner Tank Strickland.

Fansler did not mention anything about a special election, but he did say the people of Knox County must be involved however the appointments are made.

"There will be public input. He made that very clear, that the public will have input and it will be a public hearing," said Hammond.

By law, a Tennessee judge can't rule on a special election, and attorney Herb Moncier is filing a petition to change that.

But for now, the questions seem to be endless.

"Legally what can we do and how would it work? When would the elections be held? Right now we have an 11-member body. Can we survive as and 11-member body for 90 days or 60 days until a special election could be held?" asked Hammond.

"It's been a very difficult process and everybody wanted to do the right thing and struggling to figure out how to do the right thing, from the first time, now to this time," said commissioner Phil Ballard.

County Mayor Mike Ragsdale has issued a statement in response to the ruling that 12 appointments made during a January 31st Knox County Commission meeting were void.

"Rarely do we have a second chance to get things right. The Chancellor and jurors have given the chance to restore the people's faith in their government.

I urge the Commission to make the appointments using an open and transparent process, with a great deal of public input. Furthermore, it's important that no one be sworn in early before all appointments are made. To ensure a level playing field for all potential appointees, I encourage the elected 11 to make all selections.

This situation is not unlike the one in which we found ourselves back in January. Our government will not come to a grinding halt. All of the services our citizens count on will continue in an uninterrupted and efficient manner."

--Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale

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