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Hamilton County commissioners sparred over partisanship Wednesday as the panel prepares to elect a new chairperson.

Commissioner Warren Mackey, D-Chattanooga, said during Wednesday's regular agenda meeting that the commission should be conscious of partisanship when electing a new chairperson for a yearlong term next week, noting that the Republican majority tends to keep Democratic commissioners out of leadership.

"For at least the last 16 years, only Republicans have been elected chair of this commission," Mackey, one of three Democrats on the board, said after a debate over funding school improvements. "Mr. Chairman and Mr. Mayor, I don't know of any Hamilton County schools that are either Democrat or Republican, so that partisanship needs to be set aside."

"This body has been rotating the chair over to the same handful of people, and that is not a good look," Mackey said. "It may be the way that Washington, D.C., operates on a partisan basis, where either you're with me or you're against me, but, once upon a time, this commission was more open and it collaborated and worked better together."

Mackey said that in the recent appointment of a new school board member, a fellow commissioner had said he wouldn't vote for the "best applicant" because he couldn't back the Democratic choice.

Hamilton County Commission

The Hamilton County Commission consists of six Republicans and three Democrats.

District 1- Randy Fairbanks (R-Soddy Daisy)

District 2- Chip Baker (R-Chattanooga)

District 3- Greg Martin (R-Hixson)

District 4- Warren Mackey (D-Chattanooga)

District 5- Katherlyn Geter (D-Chattanooga)

District 6- David Sharpe (D-Chattanooga)

District 7- Sabrena Smedley (R-Ooltewah)

District 8- Tim Boyd (R-Chattanooga)

District 9- Steve Highlander (R-Ooltewah)

"So I guess you're saying I'm out," outgoing Chairman Chip Baker, R-Chattanooga, said.

"Don't ask me that publicly," Mackey said, laughing.

Republican Commissioner Greg Martin said Mackey was being hypocritical.

"Dr. Mackey, I appreciate your words. I know that you have told me that you couldn't support someone that supported [former President Donald] Trump," Martin said. "True?"

Mackey confirmed and then the two spoke over each other.

"I just think that it's convenient, because I do agree we need to look at the individual," Martin said. "I don't think that people in Hamilton County want us to govern based on a party, I think they want us to govern based on our contents and our good vote and the strength of our character."

Mackey said his opposition to Trump was rooted in the former president's handling of the pandemic and involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and he said Martin had "shared" a private conversation by bringing it up.

Baker listed a series of projects the commission either completed or made progress on recently — including the purchase of the McDonald Farm for industrial development, the separation of the county from private prison company CoreCivic and an interlocal partnership to create a trade school — and encouraged the commission to be more positive.

"We're gonna have, you know, points of contention. So what? Deal with them and let's move on for the greater good of our county," Baker said. "Anyway, this is my last meeting as your chair. I just want to say thank you. It's been a great privilege to to work with you and chair the [commission] and I just want to say thanks."

The commissioners will vote amongst themselves to appoint a chairperson and pro-tempore (vice chairperson) during next week's meeting.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.

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