Hamilton County chairman points to past deadlocks

WHAT'S NEXTThe Tennessee Valley Republican Women will host a forum for the two leading candidates vying for the Hamilton County mayor's job at 7 p.m. Monday at Red Bank High School. Hamilton County Republican Party Chairwoman Delores Vinson said both County Commissioner Jim Coppinger and special assistant to the county mayor Mike Carter have agreed to attend.WPLZ-FM radio talk show host Jay "Jammer" Scott will moderate. Questions or comments from the public can be e-mailed to jammer@953wplz.com or to Delores Vinson at dvinson90@aol.com.Commissioners will meet at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday for a revote on the county mayor position.

Hamilton County Commission Chairman Fred Skillern said previous deadlocks on key votes show the commission needs time to overcome its 4-4 stalemate over who should be the next county mayor.

He pointed to two tie votes about appointments - in 2001 and in 2005 - and said the commission overcame each one by voting until the tie broke.

In both cases, former Commissioner William Cotton caused the tie by not participating in the vote, according to meeting minutes.

"There's no lesson to it," Skillern said. "There's no other way to break the tie until somebody changes their mind."

On Monday, commissioners voting on a replacement for County Mayor Claude Ramsey split their votes 4-4 between Commissioner Jim Coppinger and special assistant to the mayor Mike Carter. There is little indication either side is changing votes.

Insiders have two theories about how the commission will break the tie: one would involve Skillern stepping down as chairman and Coppinger, who is vice chairman, becoming the new chairman. He would automatically become mayor when Ramsey leaves Jan. 11 and could be appointed permanently later.

The other theory involves appointing a "caretaker" candidate who would agree not to run for election in 2012.

But if commissioners continue to search for the fifth vote needed to break the tie, history indicates the process may stretch out past Jan. 11.

The 2001 deadlock came over selection of a vice chairman. Former Commissioners Ben Miller and Richard Casavant were the candidates. Cotton was not present for the first vote, which resulted in a 4-4 tie. After a brief recess, Cotton showed up to vote, casting the deciding vote for Miller.

The second deadlock took place over three meetings in September 2005 over an appointment to the District 5 Board of Education seat. The candidates were Jeffrey Wilson, who still serves on the school board, and Andrea Smith. Cotton initially abstained from voting because he served on a committee with Wilson and felt it would be a conflict of interest.

Cotton eventually voted for Wilson.

Attempts to reach Cotton were unsuccessful. Other commissioners involved in those incidents said there was no real trick to breaking the deadlocks; time eventually produced a result, they said.

Casavant said part of the problem is Coppinger cannot vote for himself because he is a candidate.

"It's very unfortunate that the state law does not allow a nominated commissioner to vote," Casavant said. "That means that his or her district is not represented in the vote."

Former Commissioner Curtis Adams said the best way for commissioners to resolve the deadlock would be to gather privately with the county attorney.

"I'd like to see them get in a room with the attorney and talk about the legal end of it and what's going to happen if you don't make a decision," Adams said. "I'm not saying try to get a decision but let everybody understand where they are."

Wilson said the long delays in his appointment were hard on his family. He said commissioners should not make a political appointment.

"You've got a different group of commissioners involved," Wilson said. "All of them are passionate. I think the thing is, each commissioner has to make sure that he's voting for what is right and not for political reasons, because what happens is you have individuals who are affected and their families, you don't want to hold [them] hostage."

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