It was entirely predictable that former Mayor Victor Ashe would use his new platform as columnist for the Shopper News to poke and prod and generally stir things up in next year’s city elections. Why? Because poking, prodding, and stirring things up is just what he does. He’s been doing plenty of it already since returning from his ambassadorial post in Poland, but has kept it mostly behind the scenes for the duration of the Haslam administration. With Bill Haslam now packing his bags for Nashville, Ashe no doubt feels liberated. So here he comes with this week’s column, parsing the city’s election laws to argue that—contrary to what Haslam said in announcing his Jan. 10 resignation date—Knoxville needs to hold a special election for an interim mayor, rather than just let an appointed executive serve out the remainder of Haslam’s term.
This all hinges on Section 705 of the city charter, which says that in the event of a vacancy that occurs within 10 months of the end of the mayor’s term, the office should be filled at the “next regular election.” Haslam and the city’s Law Department take that to mean that the interim mayor finishes the term, which ends in December, and then hands off to the next duly elected mayor. But Ashe says that since the city’s next election is actually in September—the first round of voting for mayor and City Council seats—there should also be a special election held that day for an interim mayor to serve out the months between September and December. This would seem like a fairly awkward way of doing things; voters would have to vote for a mayor and an interim mayor on the same day. And what if there were run-offs for both offices? The mind spins.
Fortunately, some clarification is provided just a few lines up in the charter, in Section 702, which helpfully defines “regular election” as the election that occurs “the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.” The September election, for the charter’s purposes, is a primary. Ashe, who has a law degree and knows the city charter as well as anyone, presumably knows this. But we’re sure he enjoyed whatever feathers he managed to ruffle this week.