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.