Are You Kidding?

Incredible testimony damaging County Commissionâ's case

Frank Talk

by Frank Cagle

At well past the midpoint of the Sunshine Law trial down in Chancery Court, itâ’s not looking good for Knox County Commission. Part of it is the masterful job being done by Rick Hollow, the News Sentinelâ’s veteran First Amendment issues attorney, and the less than masterful efforts of county Law Director John Owings. But itâ’s mostly because, in repeated visits to the witness stand, Commission Chair Scott Moore is offering testimony no one but a jury of Forrest Gumps would believe.

Testimony about the events of the Jan. 31 meeting in which 12 term-limited office holders were replaced, combined with the two votes on a new storm water ordinance, reveal that Moore isnâ’t really the chair at all. The Commission is being run by attorney John Valiant, who represents developers.

On Black Wednesday, Moore called Valiant on his cell phone; Valiant was in the audience at the Commission meeting. Valiant took Chuck Bolus down to Chancellor Daryl Fanslerâ’s office and got him sworn in. Bolus returned to take his seat on Commission to deliver a vote Moore needed to break a tie on an appointment.

At the first reading of a new storm water ordinance last month, Commissioner Greg â“Lumpyâ” Lambert let slip that his amendments to weaken the county regulations were actually written by Valiant for his homebuilder clients. At the second reading this week, Commissioner Tony Norman confronted Lambert as to whether he authored the amendments and Lambert conceded he had some help writing the amendments â“from an attorney.â”

It is obvious Valiant re-wrote significant portions of the storm water ordinance. It is also obvious Valiant took Bolus down to the judgeâ’s office, supplied him with a form, got him sworn in, and got him back to participate in the Commission meeting.

Moore testified that he may have called Valiant, during one of the most important Commission meetings over which he has presided, to talk about one of his tenants, since Valiant is his attorney in Mooreâ’s real estate business. Yeah, right.

Bolus testified he had no memory of how the form to apply to be sworn in showed up in his hand between the time he left the meeting with Valiant and got to Fanslerâ’s office. Yeah, right.

This sort of testimony has the whole town laughing; one can only imagine what the jury thinks. One wonders what Owings thinks.

The meeting on Jan. 31 was a showdown between the two factions of the Knox County Republican Party. The forces aligned with Sheriff Tim Hutchison, the most powerful political leader in the county, and County Mayor Mike Ragsdale, the establishmentâ’s golden boy who ushered in the era of good feeling. (Howâ’s that working out for you?)

What was a political grudge match has been turned into a legal matter.

What have we heard? Or, more importantly, what has the jury heard? They have heard some really incredible testimony, as described above.

The trial may leave the establishment with a judgment against Hutchison commissioners as violators of the Sunshine Law. Meanwhile, the Hutchison commissioners are planning a hearing in which they subpoena Ragsdale and his staff, put them under oath, then listen to their attorneys refuse to answer questions about financial irregularities to avoid self-incrimination.

The only solution to the travails of Knox County government is an election that allows the voters to decide who they want to represent them. Audits, public hearings and a trial are merely ammunition for the coming election campaign.

One can only hope the various factions decide to let the vote be sovereign. Once the voters make a decision, whether we like it or not, how about we let it stand? We have had too many decisions about local government in the hands of judges.

Frank Cagle is a political analyst and the editor of Knoxville magazine. You can reach him at .


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