Blount County commissioner alleges election law violations

Blount County commissioner alleges election law violations

Posted:
Blount County Commissioner Jim Folts raised concerns about the meetings during a May meeting of the education committee after a concerned teacher reached out to him. Blount County Commissioner Jim Folts raised concerns about the meetings during a May meeting of the education committee after a concerned teacher reached out to him.
After several days of trying to speak with the superintendent and the mayor, we sat down with Mayor Ed Mitchell Friday to get some answers. He said the meetings were only meant to educate. After several days of trying to speak with the superintendent and the mayor, we sat down with Mayor Ed Mitchell Friday to get some answers. He said the meetings were only meant to educate.
By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

MARYVILLE (WATE) - A Blount County commissioner and several residents are claiming county and school officials may have violated election law.

It’s been more than a month since Blount County residents approved a half a cent sales tax but the concern comes from a series of meetings held at Blount County schools prior to the May primary.

A viewer brought the concern to our attention and 6 News has worked to find answers.

Blount County Commissioner Jim Folts raised concerns about the meetings during a May meeting of the education committee after a concerned teacher reached out to him.

“These laws exist for a purpose and we ought to follow them,” said Folts.

Folts and others believe half a dozen laws may have been broken after meetings were called at the schools.

“They were mandatory attendance for all school employees and at these meetings what supposedly took place was an education of the personnel on the sales tax increase,” said Folts.


After investigating the issue, we've learned the meetings were not mandatory. They were held before and after school, according to the superintendent, and initiated by the mayor.

“People have the right to advocate that, however I think they went too far,” he said.

After several days of trying to speak with the superintendent and the mayor, we sat down with Mayor Ed Mitchell Friday to get some answers. He said the meetings were only meant to educate.

“A lot of our friends that are teachers would say to me, 'Mayor Ed, what does this mean? Tell me exactly what this sales tax means?' And I told the superintendent Rob Britt I think this would be a great opportunity,” said Mayor Mitchell.

Mitchell said he contacted Britt about organizing the meetings. In a phone conversation, Britt said he contacted the principals at the schools and had them inform the employees, insisting the meetings were not mandatory.

“I think about half of the employees attended in all,” said Britt.

Folts and others have filed complaints with the election administrator and the district attorney regarding the election laws violations.

One of the statutes states in part, “It is unlawful for any person to coerce or direct any employee to vote for any measure.”

Web extra: Read list of possible election law violations [PDF]

We asked both Britt and Mitchell what they said at the meetings and if it could have been construed as attempting to influence employee votes.

On the phone, Britt says he encouraged them to vote for the sales tax referendum. Mayor Mitchell says they were informing the teachers and employees about how the $2.4 million dollars could benefit the schools.

“Did we tell them you need to vote for that you need to vote for that? I think it spoke for itself, I didn’t really think we needed to say,” said Mitchell.

We reached out to the election administrator Libby Breeding for clarification.

“I spoke with the state election attorney and she said this is not a local election office matter.  You will need to contact Mr. Mike Flynn, District Attorney General, for a criminal investigation,” Breeding said in an email.

We spent several days reaching out to the district attorney. In an emailed response, Flynn said, “I have no information to share.”

We were able to obtain a letter from county attorney to Mayor Mitchell regarding Commissioner Folts complaints.

In part it reads, “the evidence provided by Folts does not suggest even a hint of coercion, threats, intimidation, promises or other conduct covered by the laws he references.”

Web Extra: Full letter from county attorney Craig Garrett [PDF]

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