published Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Bradley postpones vote on changing County Commission election method

  • photo
    Bradley County Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones
    Photo by Paul Leach /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Bradley County commissioners postponed voting Monday night on a proposal to change how candidates for that panel are elected.

The proposal, sponsored by Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones, was pulled from the commission's Monday agenda because of the absence of commission Chairman Louie Alford and Commissioner Connie Wilson, Peak-Jones said.

She said her proposal seeks to create separately designated offices for the two seats in each of the county's seven districts for the 2018 election cycle and to make commissioners more accountable to taxpayers.

"[It] gives equality to the election process, in my opinion," Peak-Jones said. "If somebody doesn't like the job I'm doing, they can come against me instead of coming against the open seat."

The measure, if passed, will end the current election system for Bradley County Commission district seats, which are won by the two candidates who receive the most and second-most votes.

Supporters of the measure said the creation of A and B seats for each district would eliminate "single shot" voting, which occurs when a voter casts only one vote instead of two so as not to weaken one candidate's relative ballot strength.

In addition to the reasons cited by supporters of the measure, Peak-Jones said the state mandates that counties with a population of 150,000 be required to adopt election systems that assign separate offices, or seats.

"So, if the forefathers -- or whatever you want to call them -- whether you like them or don't like them -- once the state made this decision, evidently they saw some wisdom that we have not seen, or we don't have the forethought into what decision-making they were making at that time," she said.

Bradley County's population was estimated to be 101,000 in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

A number of commissioners expressed doubts about the fairness of the proposed change.

Commissioner Terry Caywood said that, in cases where only one incumbent is seeking re-election in a district, fresh candidates will want to seek the open seat and give the incumbent an unfair advantage.

"I just feel like that my name ought to be put in a hat with everybody else and if I don't measure up, [the voters] will choose the two best people," he said.

Commissioner Jeff Morelock said he is unsure if one method was really better than the other.

On Nov. 18 the Bradley County Commission deadlocked in a 7-7 vote on a similar measure proposed by Wilson that received support from Alford, Vice Chairman J. Adam Lowe and Commissioners Peak-Jones, Ed Elkins, Brian Smith and Jeff Yarber.

Commissioners Caywood, Morelock, Mark Hall, Bill Winters, Mel Griffith, Robert Rominger and Bill Ledford opposed the measure.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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