County will ask for private act requiring nonpartisan elections for commission
Anderson County Commission will ask the Tennessee Legislature for a private act to keep County Commission and constable races nonpartisan.
The resolution passed 14-2 with District 4 Commissioners Tim Isbel and Shain Vowell voting “no.”
The Anderson County Republican Party Executive Committee and the Anderson County Democratic Party have requested with letters to the county administrator of elections that Anderson County Commission and Anderson County constable races be on primary ballots, meaning those two races would become partisan.
That request will end the long held tradition of County Commission and constable races being nonpartisan.
Resolution was passed in the Operations Committee to forward to full commission requesting that the Democratic Executive Committee and the Republican Executive Committee respectfully rescind their request to have County Commissioners and Constables be partisanCounty Commission.
The Anderson County Democratic Party, however, has rescinded its August request for candidates of those races to be on primary ballots.
During Monday night’s County Commission meeting, District 1 Commissioner Tracy Wandell made a motion for a resolution to forward to the legislature for the private act.
“The 16 of us around this table represent all 77-plus thousand residents (of Anderson County),” he said. “They elected us to where we are. They might un-elect us at the next one. That’s up to the people.
“Some of us will say we can’t get it done. They’re (the legislature) not going to meet until next year, and they’re not going to do this and they’re not going to do that. … But doing nothing will guarantee it won’t get done.
“You don’t hear about party lines and politics and we don’t make decisions based on those,” Wandell said. “I think we need to protect that.”
Wandell said the resolution is intended to “protect this institution” as a nonpartisan County Commission.
Long- and short-term ramifications
The request to have County Commission run along party lines will affect two commissioners.
District 1’s Chuck Fritts and District 3’s Joshua Anderson, who is also chairman of the commission, are federal employees who will be barred by The Hatch Act in running for office through party affiliations.
But the ramifications will have a longer shadow than current office holders.
“Anderson County is a unique county,” District 6 Commissioner Steve Mead said. He added there are a large number of federal employees in Anderson County because of the federal plants in Oak Ridge. Requiring candidates for Anderson County Commission to run on a partisan basis would automatically disqualify a large number of potential future candidates who may want to serve on the commission.
For Fritts, the decision to make candidates run under party affiliations is a very personal one.
“When this term is up, I’ll have 20 years as a commissioner,” Fritts said. “Whether I run again or not, I feel it should be a decision that I make and it should be the people of my distric’st choice to re-elect me or not.
“That choice should not be decided for me,” he said.
Fritts said the desire for a nonpartisan commission has been a constant in all of the years he has sought election to the commission.
He said the five time he has sought election he has “tried to knock” on every door he could in his district.
“A lot of times people will ask, ‘Are you a Republican or are you a Democrat?’ and I tell them County Commission is neither, we’re bipartisan
“And they’ll tell me every single time — every single time — ‘Great answer. That’s what I wanted to hear.’
“You’re elected to represent all the people of Anderson County, not a party,” Fritts said.
District 6 Commissioner Catherine Denenberg added, “We all have constituents on one side or the other or in the middle. And in my opinion, we do the best we can for everyone, not just a few chosen people.”
Anderson County Democratic Party President Elizabeth Ibbotson told commission, “I want to make it clear we never intended for the commission or the constable to elected partisan.”
She added that a letter has been drafted by the Anderson County party for the state party saying as much.
Todd Waterman of Clinton told the commission, “I see all of you with your varied opinions, your different experience, your different perspectives, your different ideas, working beautifully together, expressing yourself candidly, sharing what you know and what you think, without anybody looking over your shoulder ... without fearing what your party might think of what you think or what you say or what you do here. Instead, you’re thinking about what your constituents need, what we need here in the county.
“And I appreciate the heck out of that,” he said. Waterman said he sees state and federal officeholders who “are scared” to go against their respective parties because of threat of ramifications — regardless of what they may think is best for their constituents.
The only vote not cast in favor of the resolution came from Isbel. He said he abstained because he is a member of the Anderson County Republican Party Executive Committee, which approved the request.
Wandell said that was why the commission needed to get the private act. Wandell said Isbel is, “a good friend,” and while not meaning any disrespect, he was going to abstain from the vote asking for a private act, but he did vote in favor of the letter asking for a primary on the county’s GOP Excecutive Committee.
In doing so, Wandell said he felt Isbel “is serving the wrong folks. He needs to be serving the people.”
District 4 Commissioner Shane Vowell said he would vote in favor of the request asking for a private act, but not for a resolution from the commission to require nonpartisan races.
“The parties (Republican and Democrat) have the right to ask for this,” he said.
But, he added, as a law enforcement officer with nearly 30 years of service, he has, at times, enforced laws he didn’t necessarily agree with.
He said in those instances — and the same holds true with other law enforcement officials he has worked with — the law was enforced.
“And we tell them (people in violation of the law), ‘You need to have that law changed.’”
Vowell said the private act would essentially do just that and he is in favor of doing so.
There was some debate as to when the Tennessee legislature would be able to take action on the request for the private act. Commissioner Mead said he thought it would be at least nine months before any action could be finalized.
Wandell, however, said it was his understanding the legislature could consider the request during a special session.
He also added that he didn’t know if the resolution asking for a private act would be vetoed by Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank.
“I’m not going to put her on the spot,” Wandell said Monday night.
“It’s my understanding she abstained on voting for this at the Executive Committee meeting.”
But, Wandell said, he wanted to call a special County Commission meeting Nov. 1 to possibly override a veto from the mayor — if it’s needed at all. Mayor Frank has 10 days to approve or veto the resolution on the request for the private act.