published Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Polk Election Commission appointment sparks debate

By Paul Leach/Correspondent

BENTON, Tenn. — Republicans on the Polk County Election Commission came under heavy fire from Democratic commissioners — including accusations of secret, illegal meetings — after appointing a new commissioner.

Former election commissioner Steve Gaddis was appointed county election administrator Tuesday as in a 3-2, party line vote. Gaddis replaces interim administrator Melitte McCoy.

The hot topic packed two dozen members of the public, including leading members of Polk County’s political parties, into the election administrator’s office.

J.M. York, one of two Democratic election commissioners, protested the Republican motion to appoint Gaddis, stating that the matter of public business had already been decided in violation of Tennessee’s open records law.

“I am protesting this nomination, not because of who it is, [but] because it has been discussed about eight days prior to the meeting and decisions have been made who to hire as administrator,” York said. “Phone calls were made to this office and the [current administrator] was told she would not be back and who would be here.”

Gaddis had worked as McCoy’s assistant but she recently fired him, saying he lacked the necessary computer skills to handle his clerical duties.

McCoy said she was informed of the coming changes April 11 by Election Commissioner Bill Frady, one of the Republicans who voted in favor of Gaddis.

York explained that there must have been a private meeting excluding him and the other Democratic commissioner, Freeman Curbow, if McCoy was told of changes regarding the administrator position.

Frady denied telling McCoy that Gaddis would be named to replace her at Tuesday’s meeting.

The other two Republican commissioners — Chairman Frank Payne and Tommy “Pete” Davis — did not comment about the alleged violation of the Sunshine Law.

When members of the public asked repeatedly why Gaddis was chosen as the administrator, none of the Republican commissioners gave a reason.

“We don’t have to discuss why,” said Frady.

On Wednesday, Gaddis said he had not been informed that the election administrator job would be his prior to Tuesday’s meeting.

“I was approached by the [Republican Party] to see if I was interested in the position,” he said.

County Democratic Party secretary Jack Collins said he had a list of 13 people who “witnessed the conversation from a member of the election commissioner” at a local pub. Collins said he plans to turn them over to legal authorities.

Drew Robinson, assistant district attorney for the 10th Judicial District, said violating the Sunshine Law is not a criminal offense and would have to be pursued through civil courts. The 10th District covers Polk, Bradley, McMinn and Monroe counties,

Several people expressed support for McCoy, calling her helpful and efficient. Many questioned why the commission would want to replace her with Gaddis.

McCoy asked each of the election commissioners if they were displeased with her performance. None said he was. Chairman Frank Payne told her he had nothing public to say.

Contact Paul Leach at paul.leach.press@gmail.com

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