Seats finally filled by elections, change may be on the way to Knox County

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) – Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones, newly-elected Trustee Fred Sisk, and Register of Deeds Sherry Witt were appointed to their positions 19 months ago as part of the now-infamous “Black Wednesday” Knox County Commission meeting that violated Tennessee’s open meetings law.

Voters punished some of those commissioners in February's primary, and on election day, a number of voters said they liked the choices they made from the choices they had.

In other words, February shook out those they wanted out, and now five of the eight newly-elected Knox County commissioners are brand new.

So, what do they believe voters want?

Commissioner-elect Finbarr Saunders says, “Obviously, the key was more people voted for me than for her. But why that happened, I don't know.”

Saunders isn't being flip about becoming one of the fourth district's first elected Knox County Commissioners in more than a year-and-a-half.

He and several fellow officials-elect believe voters' clear message was, as Saunders says, “Basically restoring the trust and civility of county government.”

Commissioner Dr. Richard Briggs says, “They want to have a government that is accountable, that is responsive to them, and they expect more than maybe what they had in the past.”

Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale says, “They care about their community, they're very deliberative they're not grandstanders.”

That’s something Mayor Ragsdale says is a welcome change after 19 months, two sets of appointed commissioners, and highly critical audits of his and his office’s spending have prompted claims, as appointed commissioner Victoria DeFreese says, “That there could be possible civil and criminal regulations that were violated.”

Mayor Ragsdale says, “If you're there basically to promote yourself with no involvement in the process to move Knox County forward, then that's just a grandstanding question, and we all know the difference.”

The mayor says he's fully prepared to answer legitimate questions.

Saunders and fellow Fourth District commissioner-elect Ed Shouse say they'll have more than a few.

Shouse says, “Resolve them. Mete out the punishment that may be required or whatever that may be required, and get it behind us.”

Saunders says, “And the commission, if they need to act, will act,” even if it be sanctioning, or ousting the Mayor.

Besides, they say Knox County likely has larger issues looming.

Shouse says, “Our debt's ballooned to over $600 million. It's unsustainable, the way we've borrowed money, continue to borrow money and go into debt.”

Mayor Ragsdale says, “We don't have a debt problem. I think that's a loud sound by a few people.”

That sound may be the first shot in the first round of Knox County Commission, version 4.0.

Mayor Ragsdale points out that there have been 39 different commissioners since the election two years ago: The term limits that tossed eight out, the appointed replacements tossed out from the open meetings lawsuit, and the new appointees picked after the Sunshine Lawsuit decision. Those elected Thursday take office in September.

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