Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Governor's "duty"

Yesterday I wrote about the Governor's supposed "concern" over the way in which Knox County Commissioners were appointed last week as part of the continually evolving term-limits crisis here. Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale said that Governor Phil Bredesen told him that he would do "whatever he could" to help resolve the issue of public confidence in Knox County Government.

What can the Governor do? According to Mike Faulk, the Governor can do quite a lot. He quotes the relevant section of the Tennessee Code Annotated to prove his point:

8-47-101. Officers subject to removal — Grounds. — Every person holding any office of trust or profit, under and by virtue of any of the laws of the state, either state, county, or municipal, except such officers as are by the constitution removable only and exclusively by methods other than those provided in this chapter, who shall knowingly or willfully commit misconduct in office, or who shall knowingly or willfully neglect to perform any duty enjoined upon such officer by any of the laws of the state, or who shall in any public place be in a state of intoxication produced by strong drink voluntarily taken, or who shall engage in any form of illegal gambling, or who shall commit any act constituting a violation of any penal statute involving moral turpitude, shall forfeit such office and shall be ousted from such office in the manner hereinafter provided.

8-47-109. Governor's duty to direct prosecution. — The governor shall have power, and it shall be the governor's duty, whenever the governor has knowledge that reasonable grounds exist for the proceedings authorized by this chapter against any state, county, or municipal officer, to direct the attorney general and reporter, or district attorney general, or county attorney, or city attorney, as the case may be, to institute and prosecute the same against the offending officer.

Basically, under this little-known section of Tennessee law, the Governor has the right and (as Faulk points out) the duty to direct the District Attorney to prosecute and remove violators of the law from office, and this would certainly include those Knox County Commissioners and constitutional officers who are suspected of having broken the open meetings law, including Commission Chairman Scott Moore.

There is one monkey wrench in all of this, however: Moore himself accuses Ragsdale and his Ethics Commission of also breaking the open meetings law when they met in Ragsdale's office on Monday. I have no doubt that Moore is correct and that Ragsdale and his "ethics" cabal did break the open meetings law. Hence, if the Governor is going to be fair about things, Ragsdale and everyone on the Ethics Commission (which includes four Knox County Commissioners) should also be prosecuted and removed.

This, however, I do not expect. Mike Ragsdale is an establishment man, and like much of the GOP "moderate" establishment, he is supportive of Democrat Bredesen and much of Bredesen's agenda-a fact which you can bet the ranch that Bredesen is aware of. Bredesen likely sees Ragsdale as an ally and will certainly not do anything that would result in Mike Ragsdale or those who support him being punished. If Bredesen exercises his power under the law, it will be done in a very one-sided way indeed.

However, I suspect the Governor has indeed been advised of his rights and duties under current Tennessee law as it pertains to the Knox County political situation-and he will do absolutely nothing of substance about it.

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