New Hamilton County election chief has family ties to courthouse

photo The Hamilton County Courthouse stands in the heart of Chattanooga.

FINALISTSElection Commissioners interviewed eight candidates Monday who wanted to be the next Hamilton County Election Administrator:• Jules Doux, Hixson• Michael Kirk, Hixson• Patrick McFadden, Signal Mountain• Sharon Moody, Ooltewah• Sherry Moss, Signal Mountain• Louise Patterson, Chattanooga• Kerry Steelman, Chattanooga• David Torbett, OoltewahAPPLICANTSOriginally, 39 candidates applied for the position• David Alexy, Chattanooga• Michael Ballard, Chattanooga• Jack Boran, Chattanooga• George Bozeman, Harrison• Todd Bragg, Chattanooga• George Clinton, East Ridge• Erin Crane, East Ridge• Douglas Davis, Ooltewah• Jules Doux, Hixson• Kari Erwin, Chattanooga• Barry Garner, Raleigh, N.C.• Dianne Hicks, Chattanooga• Michael Hudson, Whitwell, Tenn.• William Jones, Chattanooga• Michael Kirk, Hixson• Brad Ledford, Chattanooga• Jeffrey Lewis, Hixson• Jocelyn Loza, Apison• Heidi Mahlum, Sale Creek• Stacey Margrander, Soddy-Daisy• Matthew Massengale, Chattanooga• Joe McDonald, Chattanooga• Patrick McFadden, Signal Mountain• Tamara McKamey, Chattanooga• Larry Minniear, Hixson• Sharon Moody, Ooltewah• Justo Morales, Collegedale• Sherrill Moss, Signal Mountain• Janina Muller, Chattanooga• Michael Ogden, Chattanooga• Louise Patterson, Chattanooga• Marti Rutherford, Chattanooga• Lanetta Schatz, Raleigh, N.C.• Mark Simpson, Chattanooga• Kerry Steelman, Chattanooga• Tracy Thomas, Hixson• David Torbett, Ooltewah• Teralyn Wade, Chattanooga• Joelander Wheeler, ChattanoogaRECALL EFFORTResidents seeking validation of a petition to recall Chattanooga Councilman Chris Anderson were heard briefly Monday at the Hamilton County Election Commission meeting. But a vote on the petition was tabled until the election commission's Feb. 13 meeting. The commission scheduled a special meeting Monday expressly to interview candidates for the election administrator job, and Chairman Mike Walden said there was not time to discuss the recall petition.

A lifelong Chattanoogan and political veteran will serve as the county's next election administrator.

Kerry Steelman, a caseworker for U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., will leave his job with the congressman and take the nonpartisan county office next month to replace Charlotte Mullis-Morgan, who is retiring after three decades with the election office.

The Hamilton County Election Commission voted Steelman in Monday after interviewing seven others for the post. Originally, 39 people applied for the position.

Steelman, 42, said Monday he looks forward to his new job and new challenges that come with it. The 2014 election will include more than 80 offices on ballots across Hamilton County.

"Voting is one of the most basic, fundamental constitutional rights in this country, and the election office has a great responsibility to ensure the integrity of that process," Steelman said. "I am ready. But you know, with every new job comes a challenge - and this is going to be extremely challenging."

Although Steelman's worked in offices for Fleischmann and former Republican U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp - and even though his brother, Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman is running for re-election - Kerry Steelman said he will remain impartial and objective.

"I can tell you there will be no issues with me and my brother. It's similar to the work that I do in the congressional office. We serve everybody. It doesn't matter if you are a Democrat, Republican, independent - it doesn't matter. We treat everybody the same, and treat everybody the way we want to be treated," Kerry Steelman said.

Besides, Kerry Steelman noted the election administrator before Mullis-Morgan was Bud Knowles, brother to Hamilton County Clerk Bill Knowles. He just wants to be honest and forthright about his familial ties.

"Everybody new Bud, and everybody knew Bill Knowles. You just tell people and be up-front," Kerry Steelman said.

That passes muster with state election officials.

Mark Goins, Tennessee election coordinator, said it's not too uncommon for election administrators to have family members in politics.

"Essentially, what we request the administrator to do is have someone else in the office to handle those races [that involve relatives or close relations]. As best you can, you build a Chinese wall within the department of elections with that race," Goins said.

Election Commission Chairman Mike Walden did not respond to two phone calls or an email Monday. But Election Commissioner Jerry Summers said it was a tough decision.

"There were eight very qualified people up for the position," Summers said.

Election Commissioners Walden, Summers, Tommy Crangle and Ruth Braly voted for Kerry Steelman 4-0. Election Commissioner Kelvin Scott was not able to stay for all the interviews.

Mullis-Morgan said Monday her original retire date was Feb. 4, but she planned to stay on longer to help with the transition. She has worked for the office for 32 years and has been at the helm since 2010.

Kerry Steelman said he would start in the next three weeks.

The election administrator oversees voter registration year-round, plans for future elections, organizes ballots and performs other election-related duties.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at or at 423-757-6481.