Knox Co. charter invalid: term limits do not apply for commissioners

Knox Co. charter invalid: term limits do not apply for commissioners

June 9, 2006

6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- A judge has ruled the Knox County charter is invalid. So term limits do not apply, some local laws enacted over the last 16 years could be challenged and most local initiatives would now have to be approved at the state level.

Chancellor John Weaver made the ruling Friday. In it, he writes, "The charter document has never been registered as required by the state enabling legislation or the Knox County charter itself."

And since it was not registered with the state, Weaver said the charter was never valid or effective.

Five county commissioners filed a lawsuit in April to stay on the August ballot by challenging the county charter, enacted in 1990. They said it wasn't enacted properly.

Those commissioners include Diane Jordan, David Collins, Billy Tindell, Phil Guthe and John Griess. Each has served at least two four year terms since 1994.

The ruling means the commissioners won't be term limited after all, and will move on to the August election.

Collins told 6 News Friday night, "Like I said I love being in public service but if it was determined that I couldn't run I mean my life wasn't going to end so I'm glad I have the opportunity and things are clear for everyone else."

Guthe added, "Honestly the bottom line for me is that the voters get to choose who they want to be their representatives in office. The way things were headed, is that someone else would have chosen for them and that would have been the party."

"Any time you take the votes out of the people's hands," Guthe continued, "I think that's wrong."

Weaver said he expedited the hearing on that lawsuit due to the significance of the issues.

Officials believed the charter gave Knox County voters the authority to limit elected officials to two terms, under a ruling by the state Supreme Court in March.

6 News political analyst George Korda explains four key issues related to the charter ruling:

Write-in candidates: those who ran against an incumbent in the same party are out of luck. Incumbents are not term limited now so write-in candidates can't take their place.

Suspended campaigns: those candidates who lost cannot get back on the ballot.

New charter: Officials are already discussing forming a new charter commission but with the charter ruled invalid, it's going to be very difficult to create another one.

Local laws: if a law was passed under the banner of this charter, it's now suspect and officials will have to figure out how to proceed.

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Commissioner Mary Lou Horner bowed out of her run for re-election in April. She believed at that time she would be term limited. Now that she dropped out of the race, she can't re-enter it.

Horner told 6 News in June she didn't regret calling it quits. But she also said, "I really don't understand why they have term limits since they have elections."

Chancellor Weaver said, "This is not a simple case. No one in the case has presented a picture of straight forward home rule county government consistent with the Tennessee Constitution..."

Knox County spokesman Dwight Van de Vate reassured the public that the charter ruling will not affect any county services.

He described County Mayor Mike Ragsdale as disappointed by the ruling. The county can file an appeal.

Van de Vate said county officials will spend the weekend going over the ruling in more detail and hold a press conference Monday morning to discuss it further.

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