published Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Hamilton County Commissioners deadlock, defer magistrate vote


• County Commissioners approved a deal to issue $92 million in bonds to retire commercial paper, seek a lower interest rate on currently held bonds and help finance the new Red Bank Middle School.

Hamilton County Commission Chairman Larry Henry voted for his nephew Wednesday in a vote for chief magistrate.

But the vote still wasn't enough to put Larry Ables in the job because the commission deadlocked 4-4. Commissioners deferred the vote to next week when Commissioner Tim Boyd, who was absent Wednesday, is expected to return.

Henry said his decision was based on Ables' performance over three terms as chief magistrate, not family ties.

Commissioners oversee four full-time magistrates, formally known as judicial commissioners, who set bonds and issue warrants to alleviate jail crowding and aid General Sessions judges. One of those magistrates serves as chief, setting schedules and reporting to commissioners.

Ables was one of 14 candidates for four magistrate positions being filled Wednesday by the commission. Along with Ables, three others -- current magistrate Randall Russell, former magistrate Bob Davis and lawyer Sharretta Smith -- were approved by the commission.

The initial appointment of magistrates required two rounds of votes. Smith and Russell garnered at least the five necessary votes in the first ballot. Remaining candidates failed to get enough votes for the two remaining slots.

Henry called a second ballot. In that vote, Bob Davis received six votes and Ables received five, including Henry's. The next highest vote-getter, Jeffrey Davis, received four votes.

One current magistrate, Yolanda Mitchell, did not receive enough votes to keep her position.

Once the four magistrates were approved, the commission voted on chief magistrate.

Four commissioners supported Russell for the chief's post while four others, including Henry, supported Ables.

Before magistrate votes in previous years, Henry publicly disclosed that Ables is his nephew, but he did not mention that relationship Wednesday.

County Attorney Rheubin Taylor previously advised Henry that the county ethics code did not require him to recuse himself from a vote on Ables.

Henry voluntarily recused himself from the vote at least twice in years past.

"I didn't want to project any kind of image of impropriety," he said of his previous decisions to abstain.

But Wednesday he said he cast his ballot for Ables because the magistrate program has been cleaned up under Ables' watch.

During his early days on the commission, which began in 2002, "it was almost continual complaints over the years about the magistrates," Henry said.

In the years that Ables has been chief, Henry said he's received few complaints.

If Ables wasn't doing a good job, Henry said he would be the first one to let the chief magistrate know.

about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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