franktalk (2007-45)

It Has to Look Good

Frank Talk

Commission must fill posts fairly, but also satisfy a skeptical audience

by Frank Cagle

There is no prohibition against Knox County Commissioners talking to one anotherâ"they just canâ’t deliberate toward a decision. Well, yes and no. If a local media organization were to discover Scoobie Moore and Lumpy Lambert having lunch together, what do you suppose the reaction would be?

The Commissioners could explain they were just talking about a fishing trip or UT football and not county business. Would anyone believe them? Would there be a news story about the lunch meeting? Of course. The story would offer their explanation. Would anyone believe them? Would you?

Once youâ’ve been busted for smoking in the boys room, the vice-principal will never again believe you to be innocent.

Thatâ’s what makes the upcoming selection of new Commissioners so dicey. There are those who believe Commissioners got off light in the sunshine lawsuit. Yeah, they were guilty, but the penalty is just a do-overâ"but what a do-over. Theyâ’re going to have to be overly cautious in selecting people to fill eight vacant Commission seats.

The 11 remaining Commissioners will meet Nov. 13 and discuss a format for the selection process. Most likely it will consist of four public hearings in which candidates can address Commission and a cable audience. There will most likely be between 30 and 40 candidates. It will take some time. There will be no bathroom breaks. It was bathroom breaks during the meeting last Jan. 31 that got them in all the trouble in the first place. (Maybe they can go one at a time.) Thatâ’s why the process will probably be divided up into four sessions.

But after a marathon public process they are still left with the decision. Do they reappoint the people removed by the judge in the Sunshine Law case? Or do they pick other people and blow off their former colleagues? Either way, someone is going to be very angry. Most likely it will be a combination of choices. Some of the previous regime mixed in with some new faces. My guess is three new choices and five returnees. But you should remember Iâ’m being clairvoyant, because God knows the County Commission has not been able to discuss it, nor would they make any decisions ahead of time.

But the Commiss-ioners donâ’t just have to do the right thing; they have to be seen as doing the right thing. No matter how open the process, if there appears to be a distinctive pattern to the selection of new Commissioners there will be a public outcry.

People will be looking for â“the fix.â” But even if they are satisfied, there will be a large group of candidates for Commission seats in the February primary. They will have every incentive, real or imagined, to nail the incumbents to the wallâ"the better to defeat their appointees at the ballot box.

Once the Commission seats are filled there will be another process to pick replacements for four county-wide offices: Sheriff, Trustee, Clerk, and Register of Deeds. I think there will be less outcry if the same people get reappointed. Most of them, like Sheriff-in-Waiting J.J. Jones, were already there as chief deputies.

It seems to me the public is still surly and wonâ’t get better until someone is punished. If I were advising the Commissioners, I would propose they have a session down in front of the City County building in which they all volunteer to be waterboarded. Then spend some time in the stocks. Afterwards, maybe people would be satisfied theyâ’ve been punished enough and we can get on with the coming election.

But the decisions have been put off for too long. Get on with it, accept that most people will not be happy, and get the positions filled. As Iâ’ve said before, we owe it to the dozens of people lined up to face election in February to let them know who theyâ’re running against. And weâ’ve got to get the brackets set up for the office pools.

Frank Cagle is a political analyst . You can reach him at .


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