What Do We Know?

No one is likely to go anywhere until the voters decide

Frank Talk

by Frank Cagle

Knoxville is buzzing about the on-going scandals in the administration of County Mayor Mike Ragsdale. Not a lot of work is getting doneâ"every business call devotes the first 20 minutes to the question: What did Ragsdale know and when did he know it?

So what do we know and when will we know it all? Some consensus opinions from knowledgeable observers:

⢠Ragsdale is not likely to resign. He has three years left on his term. If he leaves now he is under a cloud and will remain so for the rest of his life, his career finished. There would be no possibility of redemption. If he rides it out, he can do for three years what he has been doing the past weekâ"changing the subject, talking about his achievements and waiting for the tide to turn. He can probably rely on a gaggle of county commissioners to do something outrageous and change the subject for him.

⢠Not only will Ragsdale not resign, Mike Arms, his chief of staff, isn't likely to go anywhere either. Those who know the two old college roommates have no doubt that they either go together or stay together. There is no separating the two. There are reports of people who have had the temerity to approach Ragsdale and advise him to let Arms go. They have been angrily rebuffed.

Letting Arms go would probably do little to help Ragsdale. No one believes Arms does anything without Ragsdale's blessing, so throwing him over the side wouldn't convince anyone things had changed. When you have Dumb and Dumber, does it really improve the situation to just be left with Dumb?

⢠You might suppose County Commission to be scheming to get Ragsdale to resign. Well, there are a few gadflies who are brainstorming possible replacementsâ"a heavy handed move that would defeat every incumbent on the ballot next year.

More thoughtful heads on Commission do not want Ragsdale to go anywhere. There is a wealth of material to spin out over the coming months leading up to the February primary. As long as the media attention is on Ragsdale, Arms and Cynthia Finch, it is not focused on County Commission. Should Ragsdale go away, there would be a media frenzy as an aftermath: The appointment process, the (inevitable) Sunshine violation stories, the accusations of back room deals. The public would be worked into a vengeful fury along about the February primary. That is primarily because the Commissioners would not have the sense to appoint a neutral or even antagonistic county mayor for the next year. They would be too cute by half and put one of their buddies in the job. The public would be incensed.

⢠There is a public perception created by the scandal stories that all county commissioners are the same and there may be a move to â“re-elect nobody.â” Not all commissioners are the same, of course, and the challenge they face for the February election is to differentiate themselves from their colleagues. They will be well advised to run in their districts, talk about what they have done, will do and who they are. The more they appear to be a lock-step slate the harder time they will have.

But to restore order there have to be good guys to throw the bad guys out; someone for the public to root to victory. Where are the good guys?

If history is any guide, a host of candidates with high negatives will not inspire voters to turn out and clean things up. Negative campaigns traditionally inspire low turnouts. But there has never been anything like the events of the last year. We have been in uncharted territory since the state Supreme Court decapitated Knox County government by upholding term limits.

This will be the most fascinating election in Knox County history.

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


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