Vacancy Sparks Voting Stalemate


Knoxville (WVLT) - Thanks to court fights and term limits, Knox County has a new sheriff, and ten new faces in eleven elected jobs.

In the first and sixth commission districts: Josh Jordan replaces his mother, Diane and Sharon Cawood succeeds her husband, Mark.

Chuck Bolus replaces Billy Tindell in the second district. The fourth district gets two new faces: Richard Cate and Lee Tramel.

Former commissioner Frank Leuthold replaces John Griess in the fifth, Jack Huddleston moves into the 8th district seat and Tim Greene, to the ninth.

Volunteer TV's Gordon Boyd examines the decisions and why the process may leave as many people frustrated as fulfilled.

Some claim this really a test of who has more pull, County Mayor Mike Ragsdale or now-former-Sheriff Tim Hutchison.

Depends on whose head you count where.

The new sheriff is Hutchison's choice, former assistant chief and rival JJ Jones.

Anointed successors also prevail in the Trustee's office.

But when term limited Commissioner Billy Tindell won out for County Clerk and had to leave his second district seat open, the dominoes fell fast.

"I think the votes are not gonna be that close, one way or the other," Knox County Commission Chairman Scott Moore said after Commissioner Tindell was named County Clerk.

"If they're close, it's gonna be nine to nine so somebody's got to change something."

Talk about prophetic, for no sooner do the nominations, and the voting begin to replace Commissioner Phil Guthe in District Four's B seat than we get:

"The vote for Scott Davis is nine, the vote for Lee Tramel is nine."

"Don't you wish you'd left Billy here?" someone shouts to a roar of laughter.

"I didn't see this coming, not at all," Tindell says.

Tindell won't say who he would've voted for if he could.

But, "People are getting tired of this, ballot after ballot after ballot," he says.

Ten straight deadlocked ballots.

"Something's gotta happen, or we'll be here 'til next week," Commissioner Greg Lumpy Lambert says.

Something?

More like a couple things?

"I don't see in reference to state law or charter law anything that allows me to continue voting on seats after my position has been vacated," Schmid says.

"Qualified, in this instance, means sworn."

Translation: once you're successor's sworn in, your done. Which, now ex-Commissioner John Schmid claims, is exactly what he interrupted: an attempt to swear in his successor Richard Cate, to break the stalemate:

"The process here speaks for itself. It stinks to high heaven," Schmid says.

Leaving it to candidate Scott Davis to clear the air by clearing the decks. "I hate to see our government put into turmoil and out of respect for that I respectfully withdraw my name."

"He said, Lee, I don't have the votes, you do. Do your best," Tramel says.

"There was nothing about me and Scott Davis and the fight we were in today," Tramel says. "That's just pure politics."

That, other Commissioners claim, is exactly the problem.

"When the Supreme Court would not allow us the option of having special elections, that they threw us into this," Lambert says.

"If the citizens think this is a bad process, we need to go to Nashville to get the law changed," Chairman Moore says.

"I hope and pray that the public is so outraged by that in the 08 elections, they'll sweep 'em all out and put in people who'll do what's best for Knox County," Schmid says.

As expected, some folks see what's best differently?

Lawyer Herb Moncier is suing again, now in chancery court on behalf of Knox County taxpayers.

He claims that today's meeting and votes violate Tennessee's open meetings laws, on grounds that commissioners debated over who to appoint twelve days ago and that today's votes, specifically for lee Tramel, violated open meetings laws.


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