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Hamilton County Commissioner Joe Graham

It got loud in the Hamilton County Commission room Wednesday when Commissioner Joe Graham tore into commission Chairman Chester Bankston for what he called "shredding legal documents.

It all blew up over a failed effort to seek legislative approval for a referendum on a countywide cigarette tax to support the arts and culture.

The commission would need to ask the General Assembly's permission to schedule a vote in the August 2106 election.

Rather than taking a public vote, though, someone asked County Attorney Rheubin Taylor to draft a letter to the legislative delegation. The letter lay on a table inside the commission offices and five commissioners signed it, one short of the two-thirds majority needed to forward it to Nashville.

On Wednesday, Graham pointedly asked Bankston and Taylor how the letter was produced — with county labor and county resources and left in a county office? Then why, Graham asked, could he not get a copy of the letter — which he didn't sign — even after weeks of requests? And why did Bankston take it upon himself to shred an official county document?

"Have you shredded any other legal documents or professional documents in the past?" Graham asked Bankston from the commission dais.

Bankston said he pulled the letter and disposed of it when the number of signatures came up short.

When Graham continued his sharp questions, Bankston replied loudly, "No! I have not done that in the past!"

Such letters are not unprecedented. Earlier this year, commissioners tried the same tactic to seek legislative permission to set their own salaries, but it went nowhere.

Commissioner Tim Boyd said Graham also had signed a similar letter last year, but didn't say what it was about.

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