One way or another, today there will be resolution to the Hamilton County Commission's inability to agree on a new mayor to replace departing Claude Ramsey.
Chairman Fred Skillern said Tuesday that, if commissioners are knotted up in another 4-4 vote — as they did last week — between special assistant to the mayor Mike Carter or Commissioner Jim Coppinger, he will resign the chairmanship.
That move would make Coppinger, the commission's vice chairman, the new chairman and subsequently the mayor when Ramsey leaves Jan. 11 to join the administration of Gov.-elect Bill Haslam.
Commissioners still must vote for a permanent interim replacement by April 9, however.
Commissioners will meet for another vote at 9:30 a.m. today. Skillern supported Coppinger in the last vote and said he does not intend to change this time.
Carter has alleged that Skillern's move is part of an attempt to give Coppinger a leg up in the process, but Skillern said he must resign the chairmanship because a member of his family is ill, a situation that has been ongoing for a while.
"I know what I've got to do, and I'm going to do it," he said.
Carter did not return a call seeking comment.
Coppinger said he still is hopeful commissioners could find a fifth vote for either one of them and avoid such a scenario.
"Honestly, I'm not thinking past that right now," Coppinger said.
Commissioners have been mulling over statements both men made in a forum Monday night at Red Bank High School. Three commissioners would not say if Coppinger's and Carter's answers to questions at the forum would make them reconsider their earlier vote.
Commissioner Jim Fields, who voted for Coppinger last week, said he is "still processing everything." Commissioner Joe Graham, another Coppinger vote, also said he is thinking about what the two men said at the forum.
"I'm still weighing what I learned," Graham said. "I'm still open-minded for any reason to change my mind or not to change my mind."
Commissioner Tim Boyd, a Carter supporter, said both candidates did a great job at Monday's forum, but said he couldn't comment on whether he is considering switching his vote.
Commissioners Warren Mackey and Greg Beck said they still plan to support Carter, as they did in the last vote. Commissioner Larry Henry said he will continue to support Coppinger.
Commissioner Chester Bankston did not return a call seeking comment.
COMMISSIONERS ON THE ISSUES
Hamilton County Commissioner Jim Coppinger and special assistant to the mayor Mike Carter responded to a variety of different questions during Monday night’s forum at Red Bank High School. Here are some of their responses:
1) How do you feel about the current process of having commissioners select the next county mayor?
Carter: “This decision is really no different than the (other appointments), whether they pick a trustee or sheriff. Is this the process I would choose? No.”
Coppinger: “My heart goes out to my colleagues that are making this decision. None of us is real excited about it. We’d much rather people be able to vote on it.”
2) Did either of you request private interviews with commissioners for the job?
Coppinger: “At no time did I ask for private interviews. I did not support that. ... I didn’t want the process to become convoluted with them as a result of me contacting commissioners.”
Carter: “I’ve never requested private interviews. I jumped at this chance to be interviewed publicly. ... I have met with commissioners under circumstances that commissioner set.”
3) Would you support a property tax increase?
Carter: “How many of you all believe we can reduce (the county’s) $638 million budget 1 percent? ... Why is it possible for you to cut your budget and it’s not possible for us to cut ours?”
Coppinger: “I can assure you that I would not propose a budget that would include a property tax increase.”
4) Would you support metro government?
Coppinger: “I don’t think it’s incumbent upon the county mayor to drive that particular issue. It’s the will of the people that will make that particular decision. I think it’s more important that we sit at the table and talk about consolidations of some of the services.”
Carter: “I’m opposed to metro government. I will oppose metro government at every turn. Consolidation is a code word government’s use. I am for elimination, not consolidation.”
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 ...