New Sheriff Defends Selection Process

By: Knox County Mayor, Newspaper Editor Offer Up Challenges Email
By: Knox County Mayor, Newspaper Editor Offer Up Challenges Email

Knoxville (WVLT) - In courthouse, and statehouse, moves are afoot to undo the Knox County Commission's vote to appoint a new sheriff, three other countywide officials, and 8 term-limited commissioners.

Three groups seek three very different remedies, but as Volunteer TV's Gordon Boyd explains, they're relying on similar arguments.

All three claim last week's commission vote shut out the voters. Two, by violating an older state law, the third by breaking a law they'd just passed.

"Jimmy Jones, you've just been elected Sheriff of Knox County,"

Six days after his appointment and swearing in, Jimmy "JJ" Jones says he's focused solely on being Knox County's Sheriff, rather than the processes that got, or could remove him from there.

"We can't pick and choose the laws we have, the Supreme Court ruled that term limits apply," says Sheriff Jones.

"There was no public discussion, no discussion of any of the nominees," says Knoxville News Sentinel Editor Jack McEleroy.

That, the Knoxville News Sentinel's Editor alleges, violates Tennessee's Open Meetings law, so he's suing to force Knox County's former commission to undo all dozen appointments it made last week.

"The remedy that is in the law is the actions are declared void and they have to do it again under the terms of the law," says McElroy.

"We've seen pictures from a back hallway that a camera was there. To say backroom deals were made. I don't believe that," argues Sheriff Jones.

"For them to say well, we were out there in a corridor, and a citizen could have walked up and listened to the arguments and discussion; they're supposed to conduct their business in public meetings," McElroy argues.

Sheriff Jones says he asked former Sheriff Tim Hutchison to stay on as a Deputy Chief after the Commission vote.

"You can say, definitively, that there was no deal asked or granted?" asks Boyd.

"Absolutely not," says the sheriff.

"Either by the sheriff, or you or anybody else?" asks Boyd.

"Absolutely not!" he reiterates.

"Our public's trust was shaken, and the only way to restore it, in my opinion, is through an election," Knox County Mike Ragsdale said on Monday.

Some call it a long-shot, asking state lawmakers to step in where Tennessee's Supreme Court already has ruled, but if the Mayor or others can prove Commissioners trade votes for jobs, they'd be guilty of conflict of interest.

Of violating the state mandated ethics code they approved only days earlier.

"The state now has a dog in the fight that it would never have had before because of that state law," says former sheriff candidate Randy Tyree.

"They certainly didn't anticipate there being multiple recesses, violations of the sunshine law and other issues took place," Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale said over the phone Tuesday.

For Sheriff Jones, either whether the Mayor gets his election, or the newspaper editor gets his do-over, "It's not a consideration. We're in law enforcement. And we Abide by the rules. Whatever the court says, that's what we'll follow."

Mayor Ragsdale's spent the day in Nashville, lobbying our lawmakers, and Governor Bredesen to push for a special election this year.

Lawyer Herb Moncier, also argues commissioners violated open meetings laws, but he too is arguing for a do over, rather than a special election.

Randy Tyree says he hadn't planned on running for sheriff again until next year.

But if we get an election before then, he's likely in it.


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