published Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Carter vying for county's top job

by Dan Whisenhunt

Mike Carter

* Age: 57

* Job: Special assistant to the county mayor

* Previous political experience: General Sessions judge

* Personal: Joan, wife; sons Stephen, 31, and Timothy, 28

A man who has worked mostly behind the scenes in county government since October 2009 has emerged as a candidate for the county's top job and has the backing of U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp.

While two of the county mayoral candidates, Jim Coppinger and Larry Henry, are county commissioners, Mike Carter serves as a special assistant to the mayor, a post he's held since October 2009. It's similar to the job County Mayor Claude Ramsey will take in January as deputy to the governor and chief of staff for Gov.-elect Bill Haslam, Carter said.

Commissioners are responsible for choosing the mayor's successor, and Ramsey, who is reported to be Carter's distant cousin, has said he will play no role in that process.

In the past, Carter -- a licensed attorney with a law degree from Memphis State University -- has served as outside counsel to the county and as a General Sessions Court judge. He also has been involved in business ventures.

As mayor's special assistant, Carter said he does whatever Ramsey asks him to do, including attending confidential meetings related to economic development.

"It's been one of the most interesting things in the world for me to sit in on those," he said.

Gary Hayes, a consultant with the University of Tennessee's County Technical Assistance Service, said state law doesn't describe what a special assistant to the mayor does. Most of the counties he deals with do not have the position, Hayes said, and its responsibilities are decided by the county mayor.

Ramsey, who has served 16 years as county mayor and was elected to a fifth term in August, said he never had a special assistant before hiring Carter. Neither had former County Executive Dalton Roberts, who served before Ramsey.

Ramsey said Carter is "somebody that I have do whatever needs to be done. I might send him to do whatever."

Carter, 57, took on the job as Ramsey's assistant nearly two years after leaving Cleveland, Tenn.-based Life Care Centers of America, where he was assistant to board Chairman Forrest L. Preston.

Carter called himself "an entrepreneur at heart."

"I have signed the front of paychecks and I think, through practicing law for so long with the county, I was involved in lawsuits in every shape, form or fashion and developed a tremendous respect for the quality of the employees for the county," Carter said. "And for the last two years, in being involved with economic development, I think I have learned a tremendous amount."

Wamp, who is leaving Congress in January and who also was mentioned as a possible candidate for county mayor, said over the weekend he isn't interested in the mayor's position. He sent out a news release endorsing Carter, who in the past drove Wamp's campaign bus and who said he donated $2,500 to the congressman.

It's been widely reported that Carter is Ramsey's cousin, but Carter said he is uncertain if that is true. There may be a blood tie through his grandparents or great-grandparents, Carter said, but he does not identify himself as a close member of Ramsey's family.

The county's policy against nepotism does not apply to cousins.

While Carter is called the "special assistant to the mayor," his $95,000 annual salary comes from the county attorney's budget.

County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said Ramsey made that decision. Carter also has his work space in Taylor's office. Ramsey said Carter does most of his work from that office.

Carter also said he helps Taylor as well as Ramsey.

"I help Rheubin with anything he needs done," Carter said. "I was put in Rheubin's office physically. I have an office with Rheubin because that was the only vacant office in the courthouse."


Carter also is paid $2,500 a month as an attorney for the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority, and he makes roughly $100,000 annually as an owner of mini-storage warehouses.

He and other business partners own multiple tracts of undeveloped real estate in Hamilton and Bradley counties. He said he owns one-third of a medical imaging business, Heart Imaging, in Winchester, Tenn., but is losing money on it.

At one time, he was an owner in a company called Thoroughbred Cruisers, which manufactured houseboats, but he said he sold it in 2005.

Carter said he does not know if he would need to get out of his business interests if he becomes mayor.

"I'm going to have to get an attorney general's opinion on that," he said, adding that he wants everyone to know about his personal holdings in detail.

Hayes said he knows of nothing in state law prohibiting county mayors from having outside businesses. But, he added, being county mayor is a full-time job.

"It just can't conflict with their normal responsibilities," he said.

Most recently, Carter helped the county in determining how to resolve a federal probe into whether former Trustee Carl Levi's office mishandled payments made by people in Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The county decided to repay money it overcharged those taxpayers.

Carter said he was working for private attorney Walter Lusk in the 1980s when he became involved in county government.

County Auditor Bill Mc-Griff said the county had its own attorney, but Lusk was hired mostly to handle lawsuits brought against the sheriff by prisoners. Carter said he also handled other kinds of lawsuits.

By the mid-1980s, he had the title of "special counsel" and said he was representing the county in "any kind of complex litigation."

He said he was appointed a General Sessions judge in 1997, won the position outright in 1998 and resigned in 2005 to work for Life Care Centers of America.

He left Life Care in 2007 and, until 2009, pursued construction of a nursing home modeled around a suburban-living concept. He said that fell through when the stock market crashed in 2008.

He also managed his storage warehouses, handled legal work and became the WWTA attorney, he said.

Carter and Beecher Hunter, president of Life Care, said Carter left the nursing-home giant over an unspecified disagreement about the company's direction. Hunter said Carter still is on good terms with company officials.

"Mike is very creative, the kind of a logical-thinking individual for whom I have great respect," Hunter said.

Contact staff writer Dan Whisenhunt at dwhisen or 423-757-6481. Follow him on Twitter at

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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rosebud said...

Well, from the tone of this article, it's obvious who the TFP will be supporting for county mayor. Any day now, we can expect to read a glowing editorial from Harry "I don't even live in the county" Austin on why Mike Carter would be better than either of the 2 current commissioners.

Whisenhunt, who has left no stone unturned in exposing the Knowles family's every mistake, barely touches on Carter's incredibly spotty record. He drove the Wamp campaign bus? While he was making way over $100K for Hamilton County? Were there any other applicants for this made-up, political job as Ramsey's hand-holder? Ramsey says, "I might send him to do whatever." Like what, pick up his dry cleaning?

Ramsey also created a high-paying PR job for Mike Dunne and pays his "chief of staff" almost $150,000 a year. And the TFP looks the other way.

Even Ramsey admits that Carter is his cousin, and Whisenhunt makes it sound like a rumor, because Carter "isn't certain."

He abruptly left a Sessions Court judgeship in 2005 under questionable circumstances. Where is the reporting on this incident? Did Whisenhunt investigate, look through records, or interview anyone who was there at the time?

He left a lucrative, comfortable position at Life Care after 2 years because of a "difference about the company's direction?" And somehow landed in the luxurious lap of Claude Ramsey's "sure, I can create a six-figure job for you" regime?

Again, this reporting is a mile wide, and an inch deep.

What day can we expect the glowing editorial endorsement?

December 9, 2010 at 7:21 a.m.
Allison12 said...

Normally, I am a fan of Mr. Whisenhunt's work. This article is clearly dinner and date journalism. Rosebud, you are correct. This story appears to biased through omission of relevant facts that the public deserves to know. The story correctly reprots that Mike Carter gained Wamp's endorsement as listed in the article, Mr. Whisenhunt omits that Mike Carter also drove the Wamp campaign bus, served as a campaign manager, and donated $2,500 to the Wamp campaign. Touting Wamp's endorsement of Mr. Carter in the article, at the same time, omitting relevant facts leads me to agree with Rosebud. Mr. Carters vagueness about family ties to Ramsey, as possible relationships through grandparents, interesting.

December 9, 2010 at 7:58 a.m.
DanWhisenhunt said...

Allison, I have to correct you. The article does mention that he drove the campaign bus and donated to the campaign.



December 9, 2010 at 8:46 a.m.

Mike Carter sounds like a man who is restless and seeking new challenges to conquer. If so, then I beleive he would make a good County Mayor. He'll get in and get out much like previous city mayors Kinsey and Corker and very unlike the career politicians Littlefield and Ramsey.

But I have no vote, do I?

December 9, 2010 at 9:06 a.m.
Allison12 said...

You did indeed include Mike Carter driving the Wamp bus, apologies. At the same time, Mike Carter's substantial role in the Wamp campaign as a manager and contributions were omitted. As Rosebud refered to, it is common knowledge about the family ties. Interesting he is marginalizing what they have openly acknowledged in the past. I am a fan of your work.

December 9, 2010 at 9:12 a.m.
rosebud said...

Again: the elephant in the room is something a high school reporter would have addressed. Did Mike Carter work on the Wamp campaign (drive the bus, attend out of county events, etc) while he was earning huge $$$ from Hamilton County taxpayers? Seriously. How hard is it to report the news?

He got a high-paying, fluff political job from his cousin, who is clearly grooming him to succeed him in the top job.

And the TFP, probably in the next few days, will endorse him for that job. This one stinks to high heaven. And the sheeple of Hamilton County will sit back and let it happen.

December 9, 2010 at 10:33 a.m.
blakedaniel said...

While I'm sure all mentioned would do an excellent job as Mayor of Hamilton County I only know one of the three. That would be Judge Mike Carter. Several years ago my mother was facing a life ending illness. She was aware of what lay ahead and after explaining to me her wishes she asked me to basically take over for her. This was an exceptionally difficult time for all of us. I had no idea who to see or where to go for the legal paperwork needed. Judge Carter at that time was the Hamilton County Attorney so I figured if Hamilton County trusted him I would too. Judge Carter was extremely respectful, honest and understanding to the plight we faced. The paperwork was done quickly and correctly to help ease my mother's mind her wishes would be met. We weren't wealthy people and there was nothing we possessed that Judge Carter could have expected to benefit from us in the future, however wouldn't take a dime for his work. I tried to pay him and he refused saying he was happy to help. My mother has since passed but I will always be grateful for his kindness. I'm not embarrased to sign my name and stand up for someone who I admire greatly. Thank You again Judge Carter, Blake Daniel.

December 9, 2010 at 5:54 p.m.

For Rosebud: You are right on target.:)Smile

December 10, 2010 at 12:27 a.m.
alex_miller said...

It is no secret that Wamp promised Carter a highly regarded position with the state if Wamp was elected Gov. From what I understand Carter's business partners were unhappy with their partner ship as Carter was solely interested in profits and not the reputation and functionality of the elderly care homes. As is the case with many "entreprenuers" Carter merely purchases/owns businesses as opposed to running and managing them. In the case of the Storage facilities, if Carter does get the appointment, I'm sure he will only transfer ownership to his wife or one of his sons. Even Basil Marceaux had issues with Mike Carter as evidenced by his attempts to place Carter under citizens arrest. Carter claims that he was attending a coctail party when he was asked if he would be interested in the position. All of his credentials come strictly from who he knows and not from experience and logically thinking as some articles put it. This entire situation is a mockery of the political system and is obviously the efforts of a few to gain more wealth and power. I would not be surprised if Carter is involved in several questionable situations if he gets appointed.

December 13, 2010 at 12:20 p.m.
EdwardMurrow said...

I trying to figure out how many people on here are Bob Moon?

January 21, 2011 at 12:40 a.m.
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