Two Hamilton County commissioners squabbled Thursday with Chairman Larry Henry about his selection of a new legislative administrator and the process he followed to hire her.
Henry introduced Christine Hixson, a 32-year veteran of the county highway department, as the commission's new legislative administrator.
Commissioners Greg Beck and Warren Mackey questioned why Henry hired Hixson rather than promoting the office's legislative assistant, Patricia Moore.
Moore has been a county employee since 2009 and previously worked for City Court from 1995 to 2009. Hixson began with the county in 1980 as a 25-hour-a-week employee and became full time in 1993.
Beck attacked a 2004 commission resolution that authorized the chairman to make the decision on his own.
"If persons are going to be overlooked, I just wonder what the future morale of Hamilton County government will be," Mackey said. "We can always make the argument that there are people with more time in."
Moore shouldn't have to train her new boss, Mackey said.
Henry said Hixson wouldn't need to be trained because she "knows the inner workings and what commissioners are dealing with as a whole."
Beck, who was listed as one of Moore's references for her current job, said he would support Hixson's appointment but then asked her to leave the room.
"If somebody is going to be in this office to serve nine commissioners, then we ought to have some say-so in how that process works," Beck said, adding his problem was with the process, not with Henry.
"You cannot trust this thing to one man, one vote. ... You don't know what their background is going to be, what their hidden character is going to be when they get in a seat like this," Beck said.
A chairman might be racist or "race-first," Beck said. Moore is black and Hixson is white.
Race had nothing to do with his decision, Henry said.
Beck responded, "It's certainly going to look like discrimination to this county. I know you may not care, but I care, and the people in my district care."
At one point, Skillern banged the gavel, saying, "This commission does not work like this."
Henry said that the hiring decision was difficult.
"I was in business for nearly 41 years. ... I had as many as 25 employees," he said. "When I wasn't at that business, I always left the one in charge that had the most experience and I try to operate my ethics that way."
He then called Hixson back into the room.
When asked, Henry said he and his wife had known Hixson for a long time but that they were not social friends, only professional acquaintances.
Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...