published Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Good judge, bad process

The County Commission's appointment of David Norton to serve as an interim Sessions Court judge in the seat formerly held by Bob Moon provides an example of a good outcome in badly flawed process. Few who know Norton and his credentials would argue against his appointment. By all accounts, he will make a fine judge.

The problem is that the county commissioners who appointed him again thumbed their noses at the public interest in providing a transparent selection process. They simple don't care a whit about objections to the private interviews of their candidates, or their absolute lack of discussion before appointing Norton by a 7-1 vote. Moreover, they seem determined to repeat that insulting offense of private interviews and a preordained appointment in the pending selection of a replacement for retiring county school board member Everett Fairchild.

Norton comes with a good background for the job. He's served as an assistant county attorney for around three decades, and he's served as Soddy-Daisy's city judge for 28 years.

The County Commission, however, ignored calls for public interviews of the 10 candidates who applied for interim position, which will be subject to an election in August. They also blatantly refused to name a caretaker for Moon's seat who would promise not to run the August elections. They chose instead to install their preferred candidate now -- Norton's swearing in will be next Tuesday -- and to give him a leg up on opposing candidates by giving him the advantage of a billboard slogan like, "let's keep Judge Norton."

Commissioners made clear that Norton was their preferred candidate before they began the interview process, and nearly unanimous vote confirmed their private decision to awarding Norton the job, and its $156,000 annual salary. Commissioner Jim Fields, who cast the signal nay vote, nominated attorney Rob Philyaw for the slot. Commissioner Warren Mackey was absent.

The commission's decision is yet to be contested, however. Philyaw, Ron Powers, Valerie Epstein, Gary Starnes and Patricia Vital, all among the 10 candidates who applied for the post, have said they plan to compete for the seat in the August election.

Well they should. The commission unfairly refused to appoint a neutral caretaker, and they should not be allowed to think that their private appointment process should be readily accepted. If they genuinely had the public interest in mind, they would appoint a caretaker for Fairchild's seat on the school board. That probably won't happen, but their dismal, arrogant track record on private appointments should be vigorously opposed.

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aae1049 said...

We are so close to the August election, granting a quasi incumbency advantage is simply wrong. A caretaker appointment would have been more appropriate.

The Editor is correct on on point, as it pains me to write. Just because Mr. Norton has prevailed on an appointed vote, does not mean he will prevail on a popular vote. I understand Mr. Norton is a fine person and largely popular in Soddy Daisy.

It is also my understanding that Mr. Norton was the Soddy Daisy pick for Commissioner Skillern's lobby. The Soddy Daisy group does not represent the full Hamilton County wide demographic. I think that Mr. Norton is going to see an entirely different outcome in a popular vote election vs. the Commission appointed vote, even with his new incumbency advantage.

March 3, 2012 at 11:31 a.m.
aae1049 said...

BTW Who appoints School Board member Everett Fairchilds vacated seat, the school board or commission?

The school board appointment needs to include the will of the people or voters, since the term does not end until 2014. The last election when Mr. Fairchild prevailed or was reelected, there were other contenders. Marty Haynes was 2nd and Ken Smith was 3rd. Who ever appoints that seat needs to appoint either Marty Haynes or Ken Smith. That was the will of the people, called voters.

March 3, 2012 at 11:41 a.m.
John_Proctor said...

Appointment power belongs to the county czars/commission who will appoint whomever Fred Skillern tells them to. The "will of the people" will receive little if any consideration when Hamilton County's Boss Hogg has a chance to reward and punish.

March 4, 2012 at 3:54 p.m.
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