Ear to the Ground: Who's on First

Who’s on First

In the midst of counting signatures for charter amendments, the Knox County Election Commission has two new controversies to deal with.

Petition drive organizers to get liquor by the drink in unincorporated areas of Knox County turned in signatures last week to get on the ballot. The effort is to take away a city of Knoxville advantage that gets new developments to ask to be annexed into the city in order to get liquor in restaurants.

Greg Mackay, administrator of elections, says state law only allows people outside incorporated areas to vote in such an election. That would seem to be good news for the liquor forces; it prevents city residents voting against the proposal due to financial self-interest. But it also means anyone who signed the petition who lives in the city is not eligible and the signature will be thrown out. The question will hang on how many of the signatures are people who live outside the city. Mackay said the liquor petitions will have to wait until the current counting process for the charter petitions are complete.

Another issue before the election commission is the Democratic nominee for the 8th District (East Knox County) County Commission seat, a seat recently vacated when former Commissioner Phil Ballard was elected property assessor in August. Leon Daugherty has owned property in the district for three years and has built a house, moved in, and voted in August in the district. But there is a question as to whether he physically lived in the 8th district for one year. Daugherty argues state law has no residency requirement other than living in the district at the time of the election. Mackay says the Knox County charter adds a one-year residency requirement and thus Daugherty is not eligible to be on the ballot. The matter will likely wind up in court.

Who Will Judge?

Knoxville Vice Mayor Mark Brown, former Knox County Republican Chair Chad Tindell, and Assistant District Attorney Patricia Long are at least three Sessions Judge candidates who have some support on the Knox County Commission for the vacancy left by Sessions Judge Bobby McGee being elevated to the Criminal Court bench.

While there are a dozen names mentioned, most of them have yet to file applications and resumes at the County Commission office. If they can’t find a commissioner to nominate them, many of them will drop out. The commission will have a public hearing Sept. 18 to hear from the candidates and vote on the choice Sept. 22.

Brown would be the first black candidate with a good chance at a Knox County judgeship. There are five Democrats on commission, but it is not clear if all of them would support him. He does have support from at least one Republican commissioner.

Tindell, who lost a race for Sessions court last February, is a former county party chair and is working it hard. Most commissioners are not making firm commitments at present, waiting to see who all the applicants are. Some of the Republicans are adamant against Brown because, after their drubbing from Democratic Chancellor Darryl Fansler on the Sunshine lawsuit, they are opposed to any more Democratic judges.

Long is an Assistant District Attorney. She spent a couple of years as a public defender, spent 14 years in private practice doing criminal and civil law and joined the DA’s office last year.

Once all the candidates are nominated commission takes a vote. The candidate with the lowest vote total is dropped and they vote again. This continues until there are two candidates left and one is chosen. The trick is to have enough initial strength to get to the final rounds. Sometimes the vote shifts to everyone’s second choice.

Former County Law Director John Owings is said to be interested in the job, but he has been a lightning rod for several controversies over the past year and has angered some commissioners as a result.

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