published Monday, February 7th, 2011

Darwin Branam defends candidates' privacy


by Chris Carroll
  • photo
    Councilman Darwin Branam was appointed to the council to replace new mayor Brent Lambert. File photo.
    Staff photo by Jake Daniels

Darwin Branam, the man who soon will fill a vacant East Ridge City Council seat, said it would have been "a bad thing" if the public had known the names of people being considered for the seat.

"[The councilmen] shouldn't go into that with you," he said last week. "You're a reporter. You'd be reporting all that."

Branam's comments came a week after the Chattanooga Times Free Press disclosed the council's private e-mails and conversations regarding who would fill the seat.

Branam, 74, will take the seat previously occupied by Brent Lambert, who was elected mayor in November. Council members chose him last week over the election's third-place finisher, Marc Gravitt, despite the wishes of a dedicated faction of Gravitt supporters.

Branam was an East Ridge commissioner between 1988 and 1990, when the city had a commission-style government, and twice ran unsuccessfully for mayor.

Branam wasn't a candidate in the recent elections for two seats, a point that Gravitt's supporters keep alive.

FAST FACTS

Served as East Ridge police and fire commissioner from 1988-1990

Lost two mayoral bids, one by 84 votes

Earned bachelor's degree in business administration from UTC

Certified fraud examiner who headed BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee fraud investigation unit for two decades

"I find it funny Lambert [said] Mr. Gravitt only had 1,500 votes," former council candidate Justin Kirk said on Facebook. "How many did Mr. Branam have? ... The logic is greatly flawed."

Before Branam's nomination, neither residents nor councilmen publicly mentioned his name. And while Lambert, Vice Mayor Larry Sewell and Councilman Denny Manning privately discussed the vacancy, none would identify any specific candidates they talked about.

Branam defended keeping the names private.

"If you call [Lambert] up and ask him for comments and you want to know who he's discussing, who he's thinking about, yeah, I think that's a bad thing," Branam said. "Maybe he could come off with 10 names. You're going to put all 10 names in the paper. I don't think that's necessary."

Branam headed the integrity review department at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee for 20 years and investigated fraud by employees, subscribers and health care providers.

He said he plans to bring a "positive image to the city," partly to shut out the "very small minority that can be naysayers."

He said he plans to win over Gravitt supporters with his conservative politics, and he's interested in starting committees within the council, similar to how Chattanooga city government functions.

"We need to have a finance committee so two councilmen can dig into the budget and know where to cut," he said.

Asked whether he would run for the seat in 2012, Branam gave a never-say-never response but said he didn't run last year because he "wasn't interested in donating four years."

Councilman Jim Bethune, who originally supported Gravitt but later switched to Branam, said he's optimistic about his choice.

"He'll be fine," Bethune said. "He has promised me that he is his own man. That's all I asked."

Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6610.

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jpo3136 said...

In other cities, this would be seen as a detrimental lack of governmental transparency. No doubt listing the names would have caused problems. If Jesus Himself was on the list, someone would have complained.

"Why didn't Jesus run for office last fall, if he wanted the council seat so bad?"

Yeah, we'd hear it.

Years ago, one of our boisterous residents whose hobby was raising Cain, graced his front lawn with a new form of landscaping decoration. It was a 4 X 12 foot sign, complete with rhyming poem, protesting the orientation of a local drive-thru's traffic pattern.

" . . . [Restaurant name] wormburgers and fries,/ get your #$%^& headlights out of my eyes."

Just last week I drove by a man's house that was flying the American flag upside down. I knew --I knew-- there was an over 80 percent chance that this was some political nonsense. Maybe a 15 percent chance it was an accident. But wait, wait! Just maybe, maybe, there was a less than two percent chance he was trying to get attention using a 19th Century distress signal.

Yes, I'm gullible.

I stopped by that house. I knocked on the door. Just in case.

"Y'all are alright, aren't you?"

I got an earful about how he didn't like President Obama. I thought flying the American flag upside down was the most ridiculous form of political protest I'd seen in a while. Mister Protester emphasized to me how many people would be joining him in his display of dissatisfaction.

As I walked back to my car, I noticed at three other American flags: all right side up.

East Ridge will protest anything even remotely political. It's the local hobby. Sometimes keeping your reasons secret is a peacemaking move.

Even if Darwin Branham had been in the gallery, instead of on the council, he would have been up to something. Politics is his hobby, too.

We'll keep an eye on him, in front, where we can see him.

February 7, 2011 at 1:39 a.m.
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