editorial (2007-42)

Democracy Depends...

Editorial

If you want good county government, thereâ’s only one way to get it

Forget a special election to fill those Knox County offices that were vacated by court order. It was a great idea, supported vociferously by a segment of the electorate in its passion for democracy, but it isnâ’t going to happen.

No matter how angry we may be at the capriciousness of the county Commission majority that pulled off the appointment debacle that led to the Chancery Courtâ’s decision to wipe the slate clean, no election could reasonably be held before the February primary that is already scheduled. None of the offices, including the four empty fee offices and eight seats on Commission, will be filled by duly elected people until next Augustâ’s general election ballots are counted.

There is neither the legal authority nor the way to establish such authority for a quicker election process. Attorney Herb Moncierâ’s proposal that the Chancery Court void the 2006 county election because of the later invocation of term limits by the state Supreme Court may have merit and might have been applied in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, but its time has passed.

Voiding that election would conceivably invalidate all legislative actions taken by Commission in the ensuing months, and it would almost certainly lead to further litigation arising from such complications. The best we can hope for now is to avoid more litigation and delays in gaining a full complement of county officials.

To that end, the focus must be shifted from who is in office now or who may be appointed by Commission in the interim to who is running for those offices. There are already a slew of candidates lining up to seek party nominations in the primary to fill the Commission seats and the offices of Sheriff, Trustee, County Clerk, and Register of Deeds. Other offices up for election that were not term-limited or vacated by the court include four school board district seats, the Tax Assessor, and the Law Director.

The Feb. 5 balloting should already have been attractive to county voters because the presidential preference primary coincides with the countyâ’s on that date. But the furor over the Commissionâ’s mishandling of its appointments will likely increase the voter turnout to a truly respectable level. Voter apathy should not be a problem this time. We hope.

So, it is up to the tens of thousands of eligible voters in the county, which includes all city of Knoxville precincts, to insure that they are properly registered by Jan. 7. Before that, those who intend to vote in the February primary should do all that they can to reach an understanding of who is running, why they are running, and how they are qualified.

Potential candidates have until Dec. 13 to file petitions to run for the offices. By election time, we should know who they are, what their backgrounds and political leanings are like, whether they have demonstrated an attitude that lends itself to public service, what issues they wish to raise, and what positions they intend to support. We should also have learned whether their families and friends are employed by the county and in what capacity, and who their political cronies are.

It would be refreshing, in more ways than one, if the emerging candidates had no connections whatsoever with current county government officials or workers or lobbyists, but that may be too much to ask. At the very least, they should understand that they will be kept under scrutiny by the public and the media as no slate of Knox County candidates or officeholders has ever been.

Finally, after all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth over indiscretions in the legislative body, the executive branch, and the fee offices subsides and the primary and general elections have been held, we might have a list of officeholders to be proud of.

Itâ’s up to the electorate. That means voters who are eligible, who are registered, who take the time to examine the candidates, and who go to the polls and vote. We donâ’t know how many times we will have to say that before this discouraging, reprehensible episode in county government is behind us, but we will certainly say it over and over again in the coming weeks and months. If you want good government, there is no other way to see it come into being but to put your mind to the election process and vote.

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