At the beginning of a meeting to fill a vacant East Ridge City Council seat, Mayor Brent Lambert told a packed room to "be civil and not in any way degrading or derogatory about any particular candidate."
That wasn't a problem. Dozens came to support Marc Gravitt, who was the third-place finisher in the November election, and no other candidate was mentioned by name. When Lambert asked supporters of other candidates to raise their hands, no one moved.
But somehow, nothing happened Thursday evening at City Hall, where four councilmen failed to decide how to fill a slot that opened when then-Councilman Lambert won the city's mayoral race in November.
"No one in this most recent election actually ran for this seat that's now open," Lambert said.
Still, nine people spoke to the council, extolling Gravitt's qualifications and work ethic during a public comment period.
"You're going to slap the [1,490] people who voted for him in the face? It's not right," East Ridge resident Bobby Bradshaw said.
Looking up at the mayor, Frances Pope took a different approach.
"All I ask is that you make the same decision seated up there that you would make if you were seated behind me," Pope said.
The mayor then asked the council to consider an interview process to "ensure transparency," but the council deadlocked.
Last week, Councilman Jim Bethune told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that he "loved" the idea of holding an open interview process, saying it was "the fair way" to fill the seat.
On Thursday, he changed course.
"If we're talking about transparency, I really believe the people have spoken, and I didn't see anyone else here representing any other candidate," Bethune said to a loud ovation.
His motion for Gravitt and Councilman Denny Manning's motion for fourth-place finisher Bill Breneman died without a second.
"It doesn't look very good in terms of us reaching an agreement," Lambert said after the meeting.
Lambert and Vice Mayor Larry Sewell never said who they supported for the seat.
Councilmen will revisit the matter again next week, when they confront a heavy agenda. If the council doesn't appoint anyone by March 13, the choice falls to the mayor.
"It's a sad day for democracy in the city of East Ridge," Gravitt said. "I think it'll be Lambert's decision."
Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6610.