Court ruling means 8 Knox commissioners, sheriff are out

Court ruling means 8 Knox commissioners, sheriff are out

January 12, 2007

KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Friday that Knox County's charter is valid. And any way you slice it, the decision has major implications for how the county government is run.

Because of the ruling, term limits approved by voters in 1994 are in effect.

In their decision, the judges said, "...it was reasonable for those voters to assume that term limits would apply to all of the elected office holders in the Knox County government, not part of it." 

Eight county commissioners and Sheriff Tim Hutchison are out of office because they have already served more than two consecutive terms. 

Knox County's Trustee Mike Lowe, Register of Deeds Steve Hall, County Clerk Mike Padgett are also term limited out of their jobs.

The county commissioners who are term limited are: Mark Cawood, John Griess, John Mills, Diane Jordan, Larry Clark, Billy Tindell, Phil Guthe and John Schmid.

However, none of the affected officials is gone from office immediately. They will continue to serve until successors are elected or appointed and qualified.

Only school board members and court clerks are not affected by term limits and Friday's ruling.

In the 34-page opinion, the five state justices said voters who passed the term limit amendment in 1994 believed it applied to all officers in Knox County government, not just those outlined in the de facto charter.

Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale calls the ruling a victory for Knox County voters, but says he has mixed emotions about saying goodbye to so many people who served the county well.  

"The Knox County charter was overwhelmingly approved by a vote of our community," Ragsdale said in response to the ruling. "It has served our citizens well for 16 years."

In the meantime, he said, the county government will continue to do its job. "Next week the schools will be open, our senior centers will be open, our veteran's home will be functioning, our parks will be vibrant with activities, and government as we know it will be going forward and will be better."

Ragsdale said he believes the 11 remaining county commissioners will vote on replacements and those replacements will serve until the 2008 primary/election.  

But it's unclear if the eight commissioners losing their seats will be involved in the process of filling the offices. By state law, the county commission is responsible for filling vacant offices, and the departing eight commissioners are still on the commission until they are replaced.

Ragsdale said no timetable has been set. City officials are trying to follow state law as they see it.

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