Cooper: Anthony Byrd's costly flight of fancy

Cooper: Anthony Byrd's costly flight of fancy

March 24th, 2017 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Anthony Byrd, left, is overcome with joy at his victory over incumbent City Councilman Moses Freeman in the Chattanooga municipal election on March 7.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

We endorsed Anthony Byrd in his recent winning bid for the District 8 seat on the Chattanooga City Council, and we still believe he is the right man, but we hope his lack of research on his ability to keep his full-time job is not indicative of the scholarship he'll bring to the council.

The Chattanooga city charter states that no one who holds federal, state or county office, except as a notary public, is eligible to hold any popularly elected office in city government. City code, apparently, allows individuals in those offices to run for a popularly elected office but not to serve in the office if still employed in the other position.

Had we, like Byrd, had a $40,000-plus job and 22 years experience with the Hamilton County Criminal Court Clerk's Office and sought a job on the City Council, our first call — before expending a dime toward a political campaign — would have been to individuals who could tell us whether we could keep our job and serve on the council.

Those calls might have been to City Attorney Wade Hinton or County Attorney Rheubin Taylor. We might have consulted a personal friend who is a lawyer. We might have asked our employer, Criminal Court Clerk Vince Dean, whether he knew the score. Or we might have made a call to our former boss, former Criminal Court Clerk Gwen Tidwell, an attorney and a woman Byrd called his mentor.

He may have observed that Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Beck also is a court officer for Hamilton County and believed what works in county government would work with the city. We hope he was never told that he could hold both positions.

Byrd said he didn't know about the discrepancy until he received an anonymous phone call shortly after the March 7 election. The high-energy candidate has been on the campaign trail in an effort to oust incumbent Moses Freeman since late last summer, so that's around seven months, plenty of time to ensure he could keep his county job.

With charter language clear, the councilman-elect has said he'll give up his position in the court clerk's office April 10.

It's neither here nor there now, but it might be nice if the city and county had the same policy on the issue. If the city were to allow those with county positions to serve in popularly elected city offices, it would take a city charter change. Regardless, candidates should accept responsibility for knowing the ins and outs of public service.

We hope Byrd finds meaningful work outside of his $22,000-plus City Council post, and we also hope his expensive lesson will persuade him to give due diligence to the intricacies of his upcoming work for Chattanooga's citizens.

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