Good judge, bad process

Good judge, bad process

March 3rd, 2012 in Opinion Times

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.