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Such an opportunity may never occur again, but a vacancy in two elected positions with overlapping districts offers the possibility of freeing the Hamilton County Commission from the taint of backroom politics.

A special election must be called within 20 days by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to fill the unexpired term of the late state Rep. Mike Carter, who served the state's District 29 in the northeastern portion of the county.

Since by the state constitution the election must occur, why not tie it in with the upcoming vacancy on the Hamilton County Commission? The District 9 seat will be available on May 31 when Commissioner Chester Bankston resigns to move to Florida. His district covers much of the same area as the state's legislative District 29.

To fill that position, the commission opened applications for a two-week period. Eight community members applied, and the remaining commissioners are scheduled to vote on a new commissioner on June 2.

But instead of the intrigue of those eight applicants angling for support from this commissioner or that one, what if commissioners let voters decide?

That would likely mean a couple of months without a ninth commissioner, but 4-4 votes are rare in the GOP-dominated panel.

However, such ties might easily occur if voting begins, as planned, on June 2.

One can imagine a scenario of three or four applicants being nominated by commissioners and receiving at least one vote in the first go-around. Eventually, two applicants could find themselves tied with the support of four votes apiece. What might transpire between a 4-4 vote and an eventual 5-3 majority is anyone's guess.

A little history, ironically involving Carter, might be instructive.

When Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey stepped down from his position to join the administration of Gov. Bill Haslam in January 2011, nine people threw their name in to replace him. Two of those were then-Commissioner Jim Coppinger and Carter, then a special assistant to Ramsey.

Eventually, the commission deadlocked four times on 4-4 votes between Coppinger and Carter. Ultimately, Fred Skillern, the commission chairman, stepped down from his position, elevating Coppinger to chairman, which lined him up to become mayor if a tie could not be broken. After that occurred, Commissioner Warren Mackey said he planned to change his vote from Carter to Coppinger. The next day, Carter pulled his name from consideration.

But he had a few things to say. He said backroom deals were afoot to put Coppinger into the mayor's seat (where he remains today), and that the whole process lacked transparency.

"This experience showed me many things about the ugly side of politics, but public service is still an honorable thing to do," Carter wrote in an email to the Times Free Press at the time.

Coppinger denied any backroom intrigue.

"You saw the struggles we had," he said, according to newspaper archives. "All of us are more comfortable when the public is making that decision."

To avoid a similar scene, why not keep the commission politics out of it and follow Coppinger's then-advice to let voters make the decision?

It would be doubly important to do so because the Hamilton County Commission also is in the position to appoint an interim state representative to replace Carter before a special election can be held. If the commission wants to avoid any scintilla of intrigue, it would appoint someone — if it absolutely must appoint someone — who would declare they would not run for the seat in the special election.

If they don't make that proviso, the person they appoint to the interim position would have a leg up on any other candidate in the special election and once again subject the body to backroom scrambling for candidate support.

Since the Tennessee General Assembly has adjourned for the year anyway, the only agenda item for a state representative until next year is to brush up on matters that are likely to come before the body.

In 2019, three special elections were held to fill seats for state legislative office-holders who resigned to take other positions or to return to the private sector. By law, those primary elections must be held within 55 to 60 days after the governor issues a writ or legal directive for the election. The general elections, in turn, must be held within 100 to 107 days after the governor's writ.

In one of the districts, no interim was appointed before the special election. In a second, an interim was appointed who did not seek the seat. And in the third, the interim who was appointed did seek the seat but was defeated in a primary.

Here in Hamilton County, it would be a real victory in putting people over politics if voters got a chance to make the choices. Perhaps it's not too late for that possibility.

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