published Saturday, February 12th, 2011

Coppinger fulfills his promise

It was readily apparent to most voters here that the political process used by the County Commission to fill the vacancy left by former County Mayor Claude Ramsey's resignation wrongly snubbed the value and importance of an interim election. After Jim Coppinger was appointed by the commission to the seat left vacant by Ramsey, he promised to push legislation to correct the process. He has now kept that promise.

Ramsey was barely four months into a new four-year term when he announced in December that he would resign to join newly elected Gov. Bill Haslam's administration. County commissioners then learned that state law allowed them 120 days from the date Ramsey notified them of his impending departure to appoint a successor. Their appointee would then serve until the next countywide election, which would not occur until August 2012.

The statute did not allow the commission the option of ordering a special election to fill the interim term of nearly 18 months before the next general county election.

The commissioners proceeded, despite wide criticism, to conduct their interviews of applicants for Ramsey's seat in private. That further compounded critics of the flawed process, who rightly saw the long-term appointment of a new mayor as a wrongful intrusion on voters' rights.

Ideally, state election laws would allow the commission to order a special election to fill such a long interim term for such an important countywide office. In comments after his appointment, Coppinger agreed. He promised to propose legislation to amend the statute.

He has now done so. His proposed draft, which he has submitted to state Rep. Gerald McCormick to sponsor in the Legislature, would allow a special election to be scheduled within 120 days in Hamilton County for the election of an interim county mayor if a vacancy in the mayor's office occurred 180 days or more before the next general county election.

The Census population bracket cited in the law would effectively exclude all counties except for Hamilton County. That standard method for effectively making general laws apply to a specific county or group of counties would effectively make the law a private act exclusive to Hamilton County. That will help prevent controversy over the act in the Legislature and ease its passage into law.

We encourage Rep. McCormack and other area legislators to commit their support for Coppinger's proposal. Hamilton County's voters may not confront such a situation again, but once was enough. The proposal should be approved and signed into law.

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