Knox law director recommends 2 meetings to fill office vacancies

Knox law director recommends 2 meetings to fill 12 office vacancies

October 5, 2007

KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- Knox County Law Director John Owings recommends holding two meetings in November to fill the 12 county offices made vacant by a chancellor's ruling on Friday.

The specially called meeting to fill the eight vacant County Commission seats would be held on November 5.

The specially called meeting to fill the four county wide offices of sheriff, county clerk, register of deeds and trustee would be held on November 19.

Until the offices are filled:

  • Sheriff's Office - temporarily run by Chief Deputy Tom Spangler
  • Register of Deeds Office - temporarily run by Nick McBride
  • Trustee's Office - temporarily run by Mike Lowe, the former trustee
  • Clerk's Office - temporarily run by George Stooksbury
  • "Whoever the sheriff is, the sheriff's office will always be run just as it always has been as long as I've been here," Spangler said at an afternoon press conference.

    All deeds registered in Knox County are valid, regardless of the change in officeholders, according to the law director.

    The same people who were put out of office by Chancellor Daryl Fansler's ruling could be re-appointed under certain conditions.

    They are:

  • J.J. Jones - sheriff - He returns to being a chief deputy, as he was previously.
  • Billy Tindell - county clerk who lost his Commission seat in January due to term limits
  • Sherry Witt - register of deeds
  • Fred Sisk - trustee
  • Josh Jordan - commissioner 1st District - (no bio available)
  • Chuck Bolus - commissioner - 2nd District
  • Richard Cate - commissioner - 4th District-A - (no bio available)
  • Lee Tramel - commissioner - 4th District-B - (no bio available)
  • Frank Leuthold - commissioner - 5th District - (no bio available)
  • Sharon Cawood - commissioner - 6th District
  • Jack Huddleston - commissioner - 8th District 
  • Tim Greene - commissioner - 9th District 
  • "I think the people have spoken. I think it was a fair and just trial. Things were done the way they needed to be and the way the public felt they were, and we're certainly here to uphold that," said Former Sheriff J.J. Jones. 

    County Commission now consists of:

    Only 11 Knox County commissioners are now legally in office and there are no commissioners in the 4th District. These 11 will handle the new appointments process.

    But the former term-limited officeholders cannot be re-appointed.

    The 11 commissioners are:

  • Commissioner Thomas "Tank" Strickland - 1st District 
  • Commissioner Mark Harmon - 2nd District
  • Commissioner Ivan Harmon - 3rd District
  • Commissioner Tony Norman - 3rd District
  • Commissioner Mike Hammond - 5th District
  • Commissioner Craig Leuthold - 5th District
  • Commissioner Greg "Lumpy" Lambert - 6th District
  • Commission Chairman Scott Moore - 7th District
  • Commissioner Larry Smith - 7th District
  • Commissioner Phil Ballard - 8th District (no bio available)
  • Commissioner Paul Pinkston - 9th District
  • How can the same people be re-appointed?

    According to Chancellor Fansler's ruling, Commission is not prevented from reappointing the same individuals who were put in office in January. 

    However, if that's what commissioners do, the "decision must be based on a new and substantial reconsideration of the issues involved in which the public is afforded ample opportunity to know the facts and to be heard pertaining to the action taken." 

    This follows a jury's verdict that found commissioners violated the state's Sunshine Law, or Open Meetings Act, by deliberating in secret about the appointments, even during the process itself, and failed to give the public adequate notice about their plans.

    Commission ordered not to violate Sunshine Law again

    The chancellor has also put Commission under a permanent injunction from any further violations of the Sunshine Law. 

    Fansler writes, "Knox County Commission and its members are enjoined from engaging in any chance meetings, informal assemblages or electronic communications consisting of, or between, two or more members of the Knox County Commission for purposes of deciding or deliberating public business in circumvention of the spirit or requirements of the Open Meetings Act."

    If commissioners violate the injunction, they could face prosecution for criminal contempt, imprisonments of up to 10 days and a fine of $50 for each violation.

    County mayor: "second chance to get things right"

    Mayor Mike Ragsdale said he hopes when commissioners are appointed this time, they'll all sworn in together at the end of the meeting.

    In the January meeting, some were sworn in during the meeting after recesses. The jury in the Sunshine Trial found that commissioners violated state law by deliberating in secret for these appointments.

    But Chancellor Fansler's ruling suggests each commissioner can be sworn in right after being appointed.

    Mayor Ragsdale also released a statement late Friday afternoon that says:

    "Rarely do we have a second chance to get things right. The chancellor and jurors have given the chance to restore the people's faith in their government. I urge the Commission to make the appointments using an open and transparent process, with a great deal of public input.  Furthermore, it's important that no one be sworn in early before all appointments are made. To ensure a level playing field for all potential appointees, I encourage the elected 11 to make all selections. This situation is not unlike the one in which we found ourselves back in January. Our government will not come to a grinding halt. All of the services our citizens count on will continue in an uninterrupted and efficient manner."

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