Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It's not the Chancellor's fault

Knox County Chancellor Daryl R. Fansler hasn't ruled officially yet on whether Knox County can hold a special election to fill the vacancies of 12 county offices vacated after their original officeholders were ruled term-limited and the Chancery Court ruled that the Knox County Commission violated the Open Meetings Act on January 31. Judging by his comments from the bench, however, we may be able to glean which way he will rule:

After listing a series of foul-ups by a host of government officials, Chancellor Daryl R. Fansler warned that he will not add to it by ordering a special election to satisfy public demand if the law says he cannot.

Nor, the chancellor made clear, will he be a political scapegoat for the Knox County Commission, the panel whose violations of state law were at the root of the call for a special election.

"If it is within this court's authority to order a special election … then I will order it," Fansler said. "But I will not invade the province of the Legislature. I will not legislate from this bench. I will not order some remedy simply because it takes the burden off someone else's back."

The law says very clearly that he cannot, and Fansler is not stupid-he knows this. He is absolutely right, however, that he should not bear the political blame for everyone else's failure to follow the law or do their duty. Fansler's only job is to follow the law right now, and doing so will likely mean that a whole host of people-up to and including the voters of Knox County-are just going to have to live with the fact that there will be no special-called election.

This problem did not begin with him, Fansler points out. It began with the State Attorney General issuing an opinion in 1994 that the amendment to the Knox County Charter passed by the people in a referendum that enacted county term limits was unconstitutional. The Attorney General is a lawyer, not a judge-his words are not to be taken as law. Yet government officials all over this State rely on the Attorney General for legal opinions as opposed to judges and courts. We now see what kind of a mess that creates when the Tennessee Supreme Court says the Attorney General is full of bull.

"I didn't realize Nashville was so bad," she said. "The plaintiffs aren't happy with the remedy (for the commission's violation of the sunshine law). Instead, they want the court to ignore the state Constitution, to ignore state law. … There is no authority to grant a special election."

While I agree that the Constitution needs to be followed completely, we all need to remember that Nashville was the cause of this whole mess. If the Attorney General had stayed out of the term limits question in 1994 and let the courts handle it, poor Chancellor Fansler would not be in the position of being Mr. Meanie who now has to take candy from a political baby.

The Commission screwed up the process on January 31, and now they want a special election so that they can be absolved politically. Are some of them going to try and blame the Chancellor when he tells them that he can't legally do that?

The Chancellor is right: Other people created this mess and left him to clean it up. He should not be made the scapegoat for the problems created by everyone else.



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