Knox Co. Commission to consider new appointment process

Knox Co. Commission to consider new appointment process

"I do not believe any form or fashion that the county commission did anything knowingly or intentionally to violate the law," Commissioner Lee Tramel said after the meeting. "I do not believe any form or fashion that the county commission did anything knowingly or intentionally to violate the law," Commissioner Lee Tramel said after the meeting.

August 20, 2007

By HANA KIM
Good Morning Tennessee Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- Knox County commissioners say Monday they'll consider re-doing the appointment process for term-limited officeholders if the Knoxville News Sentinel will drop its lawsuit.

Commissioners won't make a decision until their next meeting on August 27. But Knox County Law Director John Owings recommends re-doing the process. 

Owings says the process would include bringing back eight former commissioners to do the nomination process all over again.

Ten of the 19 commissioners would have to support the measure. Most of the commissioners who spoke to 6 News Monday say they're open to the idea but for different reasons.

"If we are going to do a redo just to avoid a lawsuit, I'm against that. But if we are going to redo it to reinstall confidence, I'm all in favor of taking a look at it," said Commissioner Mike Hammond. 

Commissioners appointed 12 new officials in January to fill the offices made vacant by the state Supreme Court's ruling on term limits.

News Sentinel Editor Jack McElroy accused commissioners in the newspaper's lawsuit of violating the state's Sunshine Law during the appointment process.

"To put this to bed, again, I offer myself up. I will resign my seat. I'm sure that's what everyone will have to do," Commissioner Lee Tramel said during a meeting on Monday morning. He's one of the 12 appointees who would have to resign if the appointments are redone.

"I do not believe any form or fashion that the county commission did anything knowingly or intentionally to violate the law," Tramel said after the meeting.

But Tramel says the redo is worth it anyway because, "It would save taxpayers tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation costs."

News Sentinel Editor Jack McElroy says he'd be satisfied with a redo as long as commissioners respect and enforce the Sunshine Law.

If commissioners vote to do the appointments again, the earliest it could happen is September 7.

Also Monday at a commission meeting, officials said Knox County's financial audit is complete and was to Mayor Mike Ragsdale's office.

The mayor's office released a letter Monday from Ragsdale to state comptroller John Morgan asking him to broaden the scope of the state's inquiry on the audit.

In that letter, dated August 15, Ragsdale writes:

"We appreciate the commitment of you and your office to lend technical assistance to Knox County's internal auditor. However, in order to alleviate the concerns and questions of our office, and, most importantly, the Knox County citizens, we humbly ask that you broaden your scope of inquiry. I am requesting that your office participate in a larger scale effort. It is my contention that the scope of services performed by and/or contracted by your office should include but not be limited to the financial transactions of the following Knox County Governmental services:

  • Office of Knox County Mayor
  • Community Grants
  • Other offices deemed necessary as determined by the review

Your assistance on a much broader scale than originally requested is considered necessary to clear the air in the most efficient and effective manner possible. It is our goal to see this process completed with fully independent and unbiased professionals."

During Monday's meeting, Commission Chairman Scott Moore pushed to have any mayor's office employees who drive county vehicles while receiving an auto allowance  reimburse the county for the money.

However, a majority of commissioners voted to postpone calling for a reimbursement until the results of the county audit are made public.

The mayor's spokesman, Dwight Van de Vate, says he's hired attorney Bruce Poston to represent him because the talk among commissioners has become too personal. 

Van de Vate says he felt it was better to be proactive and hire an attorney now.

And Mayor Ragsdale sent a letter of support to commissioners regarding Cynthia Finch, the county's director of community services. Finch has been under fire in connection to her local non-profit ties.

In his letter, the mayor writes, "Recently, I read a column saying 'Fire Cynthia Finch.' Several county commissioners have said she should resign. When reading these comments, my thoughts immediately turned to Matthew 27. There is a lesson to be learned: It is easy to attack people senselessly. When emotions run high, truth and good deeds are often forgotten and compassion should always succeed over hatred."

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