Ramsey replacement will serve with stigma of secrecy

At 9:30 a.m. the Hamilton County Commission will attempt to decide unevenly between two candidates seeking to replace outgoing County Mayor Claude Ramsey. Two previous votes held on the same day (27 December 2010) resulted in a tie. Four commissioners were for Mike Carter, a top Ramsey aide; and four more preferred Commissioner Jim Coppinger.

The vote itself is the not-so-simple culmination of a process that began when Ramsey was first picked to head Governor-elect Bill Haslam’s administration. Many have commented on the lack of public input to the procedure. A public forum was held on Monday, but it was sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Republican Women, not the county commission—and it followed the initial deadlocked vote. Several have decried the Commission’s apparent preference for keeping their intentions private.

Ray Minner, on Facebook:

It is hard to imagine how Commission Chairman Fred Skillern and some of his colleagues could have mucked up this process any worse if they had deliberately set out to try. Larry, his brother Daryll, and his other brother Daryll would have done it cleaner and quicker, and we would have at least been entertained along the way. As it is, the entire episode from beginning to end (Oh, wait! We’re not AT the end yet, are we?) has exposed the reality of just how much these elected officials care about public input, transparency in government, and accountability. Private interviews of the candidates was an idea that should have been dismissed out of hand at its very first mention.

Minner also speculates that for Commissioner Larry Henry, whose application was submitted and then withdrawn, the “political realities” cited likely included closed-door conversations with his colleagues. Henry cast his vote for Coppinger last week.

David Morton, editor of Chattarati, also found fault with the selection process in general, but was particularly disturbed by reports that a scheme is being hatched to seat Commission Chairman Fred Skillern’s preferred candidate:

The proposed deal, for Skillern to step down and clear the way for Coppinger’s ascension, follows the letter of the law. But not its spirit. And as this whole ordeal has played out over the past month, the County Commission has moved further away from the law’s spirit inch by inch, which is quite alarming considering the weight and duration of this particular appointment.

Only holding private interviews was a serious lapse in judgment. Not only does it rob the public of an opportunity to learn more about the candidates, it’s a political liability for commissioners and the appointed mayor. Were it not for the candidate forum sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Republican Women last night, citizens would have had no direct opportunity to learn about their next mayor.

That’s a troubling reality, but not nearly as troubling as the rumored Skillern-Coppinger deal.

Coppinger is not alone in having elected officials attempt to work behind the scenes on his behalf. Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield at first said he was not lobbying for either candidate, but later admitted that he has made calls in support of Carter.

Most acknowledge that neither candidate is a bad choice, and that the county will muddle through the nineteen months or so until a properly elected mayor is seated. But there is also the unfortunate perception that, no matter which candidate gets the job, the remainder of the term will be clouded by lingering suspicions about how it was gotten.

See also: Stuart James

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