Tag Archives: Jim Fields

And justice 4-all: Hamilton County Commission deadlocked on mayor vote

The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners met this morning to decide a replacement for County Mayor Claude Ramsey, who is leaving local government to serve in Governor-elect Bill Haslam’s administration. No replacement was selected today, however, because the vote and a re-attempt both resulted in a tie.

Although eight people had submitted applications to be considered for the post, only the two frontrunners received nominations in the session: Mike Carter, a former judge and currently special adviser to Ramsey; and Commissioner Jim Coppinger, who represents District 3. With Coppinger unable to vote, the potential for deadlock was realized when Commissioners Chester Bankston, Greg Beck, Tim Boyd, and Warren Mackey cast votes for Carter; and Commissioners Jim Fields, Joe Graham, Larry Henry, and Fred Skillern voted for Coppinger.

The exercise will be repeated on next Wednesday (5 January 2010). As several have noted, the question now becomes “which commissioner will change his vote?” And as Times Free Press reporter Dan Whisenhunt tweeted, County Attorney Rheubin Taylor says that if no action is taken by the 11th (when Ramsey officially steps down), then Commission Chair Skillern becomes interim mayor, and would thus be unable to vote (although a total of 5 votes would still be needed to select a replacement).

All of this re-raises the question “why not a special election to replace Ramsey?” The Tennessee Constitution states in Article VII, Section 2:

Vacancies in county offices shall be filled by the county legislative body, and any person so appointed shall serve until a successor is elected at the next election occurring after the vacancy and is qualified.

The timing is unfortunate, since the next election is in 2012. Some have wondered aloud whether Ramsey should have declined to run for reelection in August, given that he turned around and accepted a job in the Haslam government. The insinuation that Ramsey may have known a job offer was coming is best viewed in the light that Ramsey publicly supported Zach Wamp for governor.

The best possible solution, from the citizens’ point of view, is for the Commission to have conducted the appointment process in as open a manner as possible. Since that did not play out, the best we can hope for is a speedy end to the drama and a return to efficient governing by whomever is chosen.

The bipartisan media

Last week, after Hamilton County voters determined the Democratic and Republican nominees for the August election, many local news accounts contained glaring omissions. The offending reports were written to suggest that the primary winners would be the only contenders in the August general election. Here are a couple of examples:

“In August, [Tim] Boyd [the GOP primary winner] will face Democrat Kenny Smith, 56, the Hamilton County Board of Education chairman and leading primary fundraiser of all county government candidates.” (Dan Whisenhunt, reporting on the District 8 County Commission race)

“Attorney Jim Fields defeated Dr. Casavant 1263-1051, garnering just over 54 percent of the vote in the District 2 GOP primary. There were no Democratic candidates.” (David Carroll, reporting on the District 2 County Commission race—note that the article now continues “Fields will face independent candidate David Cantrell in the August county general election.” I left a comment on the story that was never published, and the article has an update timestamp.)

In fairness, for some races the local media got it right, even within the same articles that left out other independent candidates. And I know that as the August 5 election nears, resources like the Free Press‘s ballot mock-up will be accurate and show all candidates’ names.

But is simple accuracy enough? Will each candidate receive thorough treatment in the editorial pages? Surely it would be easier on journalists to have nice, tidy two-party elections; just look at the current mess in the United Kingdom. (I’m tempted to draw an analogy to the frustration in sports journalism over the NCAA’s football championship series, which is keenly less preferred than a proper set of playoffs, but am too ignorant on that topic. You get the idea.) At best, races like Hamilton County’s District 8 will get the “candidate A, candidate B, and, oh, those two other guys” treatment.

Before you bring it up, let me acknowledge that having a political party’s backing gives partisan candidates an advantage over most independents. But what about cases like District 2, where the GOP primary arguably split that party’s voters into factions? Could an independent candidate cobble together a winning combination? With the incumbent out of the picture, and two newcomers vying for the open seat, some might consider it a possibility. But never mind the prognostication for now. Before we get to predicting the outcome, how about we at least have the conversation about there being two candidates?

I spoke with David Cantrell last Wednesday, after failing to see his name mentioned, in most news reports, as a general election contender. I first confirmed that he is still running. Yes, he said; he did not campaign before the primary, because he didn’t want to confuse supporters who would not have seen his name on the May 4 ballot. But between now and August, he plans a vigorous campaign alongside the Republican nominee, Jim Fields. I also wondered whether Cantrell was surprised at the primary results. He said that there has been a strong anti-incumbent sentiment among local citizens and that Fields did just what was needed to gain a victory in the primary. He said that he looks forward to discussing the issues with Fields and with voters over the coming months.

In District 8, there will be four candidates on the ballot: Tim Boyd, Kenny Smith, Terry Turner, and Jim Winters. Strip away all handicaps, and each man has a 25 percent chance of being my next county commissioner. Obviously there are factors that change those odds. I only ask that my partners in public information avoid focusing on only half the candidates.

Please note: I am in no way singling out the two good reporters cited above. I used these recent examples to illustrate a systemic problem.