County Commissioners Sound Off

By: Jason Tighe
By: Jason Tighe

Knoxville (WVLT) -- On Monday, Knox County's Sheriff and 11 other elected officials and county commissioners may have to decide whether to give up their jobs to avoid going to court.

It's a way to do-over the appointments that replaced the previous members who were forced out by term limits back in January.

On Sunday morning, several of those elected officials were using a high powered radio frequency, to deliver and debate the merits, of the much debated lawsuit filed by the Knoxville News Sentinel.

"A lot of people are alleging that the appointments of several commissioners on January 31st of this year violated the open meetings act," spoke Michael Grider, the host of WIVK's Sound-Off talk show. .

"They shall engage in a redo of all twelve appointments," read county law direct John Owings from his proposal to remedy the situation.

Tomorrow's county commission meeting will be his chance to try and put the touchy topic.

"It also calls upon the current appointees to the county commission seats, and there are eight of those, to resign their seats effective Tuesday, September the Fourth at 8:45 A.M."

Owings wants the Sheriff, County Clerk, Register of Deeds, and the Trustee to abdicate as well, without an admission of liability

He is hoping to avoid a sunshine law trial, but that is easier said than done.

"Well we certainly have varying views of what the law is," Owings said.

Meanwhile commissioner Mark Harmon feels a redo would accomplish little.

"It repeats the same mistakes we did the last time," he said, "and that is letting the eight term limited who should have never been on the ballot in the first place vote."

Commissioner Phil Ballard say's his constituents have made up there minds.

"It's overwhelmingly that they don't want the commissioners to do a redo," he said. "They don't want anything hid, or behind closed doors."

Harmon doesn't mind taking on the paper.

"I think we should go to trial," he said, "we should see what happens."

But for all of the round table talk, the callers offered plenty of passion.

"When you do something, you do it right the first time and when you say redo, that's a lawsuit," said one.

"The government and the politics of this place, I mean it's just ridiculous," said another.

"How was that commissioner chosen to be sworn in," questioned a third.

"I would submit, that the eight new commissioners, including myself, that have been appointed, have been a pretty good addition to the commission," said commissioner Richard Cate.

Are the accusations of wrong doing fair?

Or does the scrutiny of the Open Meetings Act put too tight a squeeze on good governing?

"Communication is the way to go," Ballard said, "and if you can't communicate, then you're really sort of left out in limbo."

Law director's Owing's proposed remedy needs the backing of 13 commissioner's just to come up for discussion tomorrow.

The News Sentinel's lawyer has been quoted as saying the plan's unacceptable.

Especially if it lacks a court order barring commissioners from repeating what the paper calls, their same mistakes.

The lawsuit's set to go to trial on September 11th.


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