Roberts: Political connivance at the courthouse

Roberts: Political connivance at the courthouse

January 7th, 2011 by Dalton Roberts in News

EDITOR'S NOTE: The appointment of a new county mayor has emerged as this community's leading news topic. For that reason, we decided Thursday that the perspective from a man who spent 16 years in the job was critical to advance the public discourse on this issue. It's so critical that we have decided to publish Dalton Roberts' column on the front page. Roberts was Hamilton County's chief administrator from 1978 to 1994.

What's happening right now at the courthouse is the worst kind of political connivance. We are supposed to sit quietly and take it like good little boys and girls.

"Connive" is a word from the Latin "conivere," meaning "to wink." Those involved in this plot to cheat the people out of a voice in the selection of their county mayor are winking and grinning as they make monkeys out of all of us.

Here's the scenario: After several 4-4 votes to choose a new mayor between Claude Ramsey's assistant, Mike Carter, and current County Commissioner Jim Coppinger, Fred Skillern has resigned as commission chairman and turned the chairmanship over to Vice Chairman Coppinger. When Ramsey's resignation is official, Coppinger automatically will become county mayor.

Commissioners could have selected a new mayor after public interviews of the candidates. But they do not like the Tennessee Open Records Act, which is designed to ensure that public business is not conducted in secret, and let that be known in their regular meetings. The only chance for public participation was a meeting at Red Bank High School prompted by daily criticisms from talk show host Jammer Scott.

If they had not decided to ignore the "Sunshine Law" and had acted as soon as Mayor Ramsey announced his decision to leave, they could have had meetings in all nine districts and let the public participate in their questioning of the candidates. Then the people could have told their commissioners who they preferred.

The dictionary defines "connive" as "to pretend not to see or look at something wrong ... to cooperate secretly in wrongdoing ... to scheme in an underhanded way." This is exactly the path some of our "leaders" chose.

If you are not yet certain of Sunshine Law violations, ask how all the pieces of this scheme were put in place? For example, how did Commissioner Larry Henry go from losing the vice chairmanship a few weeks ago by an 8-1 vote to becoming vice chairman and being in line for chairman when Coppinger is raised to mayor?

All the pieces were put into place by Skillern in conversations with certain commissioners. If that wasn't a violation of the Sunshine Law, which speaks of "deliberating toward a decision," there has never been one. If the decision is taken to court and everyone is a sworn witness, we will learn the truth, and it will not be pretty.

That's exactly what happened in the 1970s when the county judge fired an employee in an unadvertised meeting and Chancery Court overturned the decision. That employee was me.

Ask yourself why anyone would be afraid of interviewing candidates in public unless they wanted to conceal certain questions and answers. No matter how you shake it out, there is a desire to hide information and commitments.

Who has the right to make commitments about the public's business secretly? Under such an arrangement, your interest can be sold out and no one will ever know it. The winking and grinning will go right on, leaving you completely in the dark.

Elected officials are sworn to look out for our interests and protect us from behind-the-scenes deals. When they don't, we have government of the sneaky, by the sneaky and for the sneaky. The sad part is we may have to wait to unseat the sneaky.

We are a great county, and are on the move. We need a stable, trustworthy county government.

How do you feel now about trust?