Hamilton County commissioners on Wednesday said County Mayor Jim Coppinger’s call to reform the process of filling a mayoral vacancy hit a dead end when it was determined that the change would be unconstitutional.
Coppinger asked the Tennessee General Assembly to pass a law allowing the commission to call for a special election if the county mayor’s office is vacant. Now a vacancy can be filled only by appointment.
County Attorney Rheubin Taylor told commissioners the county’s legislative liaison, Public Works Administrator Dan Wade, had sent word that a special election would be unconstitutional.
“We would have to have a state constitutional convention, and we haven’t had one since 1977,” Taylor said.
He also said the commission could not hold a special election even if it were to adopt home rule, like Chattanooga.
State Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, who introduced the bill, confirmed the “constitutional issues” with the bill Wednesday. He said if he does not hear anything else from the county, he will move on to other issues.
“My first impression was disappointment,” Coppinger said of the bill. “We were trying to move forward.”
Commissioners became embroiled in controversy in January while trying to replace former Mayor Claude Ramsey, who joined Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration.
Commissioners deadlocked several times between Coppinger, then a commissioner, and Mike Carter, Ramsey’s special assistant.
Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...