published Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Rep. Gerald McCormick introduces county elections bill

Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, has introduced a bill that would give Hamilton County another option when faced with an unexpected mayoral vacancy.

The bill, presented Wednesday, authorizes the County Commission to call a special election if the mayor's office becomes vacant more than 180 days before the next county election.

"We introduced this in consultation with county government to avoid a situation like last time," McCormick said.

After former mayor Claude Ramsey left to join Gov. Bill Haslam's administration last month, commissioners deadlocked 4-4 between then-commission vice chairman Jim Coppinger and Mike Carter, the former special assistant to Ramsey.

Coppinger became mayor through some maneuvering on the commission. Then-chairman Fred Skillern stepped down, immediately putting vice chairman Coppinger in the top slot.

Because neither Coppinger nor Carter could muster a majority of votes, Coppinger was designated to move up from chairman into the role as interim mayor. After that move, Carter released his votes and Coppinger was elected.

"Obviously, there was a lot of dissatisfaction about that process," Coppinger said Wednesday. "If this bill passes, it gives the board of commissioners another viable option to let the people make that choice."

McCormick said he introduced the bill in two formats, one applying only to Hamilton County and the other applying statewide.

"It was unclear whether we could introduce a bill that would single out one county," McCormick said.

The bill will go before a subcommittee in about two weeks, McCormick said.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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