Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Attorney General's opinion of the Knox County crisis

Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale believes that he has been vindicated by an opinion of the State Attorney General that says that elections could be possible for the purpose of replacing the term-limited County Commissioners who were (instead) replaced by the controversial appointment process of January 31.

I have said before that all of the major players in this drama have only in mind their own political hides. Ragsdale is posturing to make it appear as though he is a statesman out for the sake of the public will, when in reality people in the employ of his office have engaged in corruptive activities that make the violation of the Open Meetings Act on the last day of January by the Commissioners look tame by comparison. The majority on the Commission clearly fear that Ragsdale is merely trying to manipulate elective processes to consolidate power-a fear born out from past experience since he has manifested his power-grabbing tendencies before. Meanwhile, Commissioners have clearly taken sides in the never-ending personal political battle between Ragsdale and former Knox County Sheriff Tim Hutchison-and they side with the High Sheriff.

On top of all of that, State Representative Stacey Campfield is quite correct when he points out that Knox County Commissioner Mark Harmon, far from being the mere soldier of good government that he appears, has only the political goal of trying to get more liberal Democrats on the Commission, and intends to use public anger over this entire process to try and accomplish that goal. The World has at least one inside source that has informed us reliably that he has admitted as much to certain of his fellow Knox County Commissioners. All of that is not to say that Harmon is not correct in trying to push for an election of some sort, but he is unlikely to be pleased if that election doesn't take place as near to immediately as possible-and not because he is excited about the voice of the people. He is liable to become agitated if that voice doesn't say what he wants.

Mike Ragsdale showed his true political colors when he appointed Harmon to his phony Ethics Commission, which Ragsdale undoubtedly sees as yet another tool he can use to deflect attention from the corruption in his own office. Indeed, the entire term limits mess is like manna from Heaven for Ragsdale because the more it deflects attention from his problems, the better off he is politically.

It is into this backdrop that the Attorney General issued his opinion, a reply to a series of questions from Republican State Senator Tim Burchett of Knoxville. Burchett was right to ask for the opinion, and the Attorney General's answers do seem to clarify the situation. However, to say that the opinion somehow "vindicates" Ragsdale is a bit of a stretch. According to the opinion, the General Assembly does have the authority to pass legislation authorizing a special election-but only if the court in the lawsuit filed by the Knoxville News-Sentinel rules that the Commissioners violated the sunshine law. In spite of the opinions of many (including The World) that the sunshine law was likely violated, the case is far from cut-and-dry.

It is important to remember that if the Court rules that the sunshine law was not violated, the appointments of the Commission, however shoddy (and they were shoddy) are valid under the Tennessee Constitution and under current Tennessee law. This is a fact that Ragsdale, Harmon, the Commission, Sheriff Hutchison, and all parties involved are very much aware of-which is why they are posturing so blatantly. Whichever side loses the legal battle will be the side that loses politically.



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