This story was updated at 4:58 p.m. on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, with more information.
Some Hamilton County commissioners want to appoint Joan Carter, wife of the late Rep. Mike Carter, to fill the state representative's seat until a special election.
The subject came up at Wednesday's county commission meeting, which included a tribute to Mike Carter, who died of pancreatic cancer on May 15. Carter served the county directly as an attorney and judge and represented the area in the Tennessee General Assembly.
Commissioner Sabrena Smedley, R-Ooltewah, described Carter as her state representative and friend and said that he had "wisdom beyond his years."
"Someone described him to me about a week ago as the smartest guy in the room, but you'd never know it. He was such a humble man," she said, standing with his wife and two sons. "He was committed not only to his faith, but to his family."
During the meeting, his last before a planned retirement, a tearful Commissioner Chester Bankston called Carter one of his best friends.
"When I announced I was retiring, he called me that day," Bankston said of the late representative. "He could hardly speak, but he still called me.
"I will miss him forever."
After a string of memorial comments, Chairman Chip Baker read a statement calling for the commission to make an appointment to Carter's seat on June 9.
"I realize the Tennessee General Assembly has concluded its business for this calendar year, but I think we all have heard speculation that the governor may call the legislature back to Nashville for a special session," Baker said. "Just in case such a special session is called prior to the special election being held, I hope the members of this body will agree with me that someone should be authorized and available to represent the citizens of the 29th legislative district."
Smedley then recommended the commission appoint Joan Carter, noting that she had agreed to serve.
Commissioner Greg Martin questioned the speed at which the commission was moving to appoint her — and whether the appointment was necessary — noting that the commission still has to appoint a replacement for Bankston on June 2.
"I appreciate what you're trying to do, and this is hitting me kind of fresh this morning," Martin said. "But I think it would be more appropriate for us to get past June 2 and our appointment to the county commission seat and have the opportunity to see where the legislature is and if the governor is going to call someone."
"I'd rather, instead of doing it in a rushed situation, I'd rather — this is the first I've heard of it — and I'd rather have conversation about it," Martin said. "So I would object."
Baker still made notice that the commission would vote on an appointment to the seat on June 9, and Martin repeated his objection.
After the meeting, Martin said that he had no problem with Joan Carter taking the seat, but he wanted to make sure it was necessary and done through a fair process.
"I'm not oppposed to Joan Carter being in that seat, I'm opposed to the process of not having a process where people can apply for the position," Martin told the Times Free Press.
"My objection is not to an individual, it's to a process that circumvents the people of District 29 having the chance to apply for the interim seat," he added. "The seat belongs to the people after all."
Martin said he wants to see the commission open an application and set a date certain to vote on the replacement — as they have done with Bankston's seat — and then make the appointment of that seat contingent on whether there is a special session before the special election.
But, Martin can't do anything to stop the appointment of Carter on June 9 without the support of four more commissioners.
"I might bring it up again, but what's the point if there are not other commissioners that have concern about the process?" he said. "I made my opposition known."
Baker said that he initially considered doing exactly the same process for Carter's seat as Bankston's, but was moved by Joan Carter's interest.
"My thinking going into this was that we would do the same process, but the fact that Mrs. Carter wants to fill the seat until the election is a great honor," Baker said.
"I'm resolved to do it the way we discussed today. It's an honorary thing. It fulfills her wishes and possibly his, who knows."
Smedley, who made the nomination, said that she reached out to the Carter family and "strongly encouraged" Joan to take the seat.
"It's very honorable to the legacy that Mike Carter leaves," she said late Wednesday, arguing that the appointment was too short to be handled like Bankston's seat.
"You're comparing apples and oranges. This is a very short interim position because we already know if the governor calls for a special election there's going to be a primary in July and a general election in August," she said. "We're talking about a matter of weeks."