published Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Political leaders vie for Hamilton County Circuit Court clerk seat

Hamilton County Commissioner Larry Henry
Hamilton County Commissioner Larry Henry
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

WHAT'S NEXT?

Here are key dates for Hamilton County 2014 elections:

• Qualifying: Candidates may pick up qualifying papers for county races on Nov. 22.

• Deadline: Candidates must turn in qualifying papers by Feb. 20

• Primary: County primary elections will be held May 6.

• General: County general election will be held Aug. 7.

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

The current leaders of the Hamilton County Commission and the county school board will face off in May for the open Circuit Court Clerk seat.

Longtime Hamilton County Circuit Court Clerk Paula Thompson will step down next year after her term expires Aug. 31. On Monday, Board of Education Chairman Mike Evatt announced his candidacy for the $101,000 a-year job. And Commission Chairman Larry Henry will make a formal announcement today about his plans to seek the office.

Evatt retired as the director of building and grounds for Hamilton County Schools in 2007 after 33 years in the city and county school systems. Henry, his counterpart on the County Commission, owned his own business for 39 years and is in his third four-year term on the commission.

Both men say they'll run on their experience in public office and business.

Evatt, 57, is now a self-employed general contractor and is serving his first four-year term on the school board. He said he wanted to serve in a countywide office, following the path of his father, H.Q. Evatt, a longtime Hamilton County sheriff.

"I've always wanted to serve Hamilton County," he said. "The opportunity is there. The position is open, so I'm not running against anybody. I'm basically running for an open seat on my merit and credentials."

Henry, 64, has been chairman of the commission for five years and said many people have approached him about running for the clerk's position even before Thompson announced in July that she wouldn't seek re-election. While on the commission, Henry has been through and voted on 11 budgets.

"I think my experience on the County Commisison and five terms as chairman qualifies me to do the job," he said. "I think my record speaks for itself."

More may enter the race, as the deadline to qualify isn't until Feb. 20. Whoever wins the election will inherit an office with 42 employees and a nearly $1.5 million budget. The Circuit Court clerk is responsible for preserving records and accepting and dispersing fees in circuit and sessions civil courts. The clerk also maintains data on jury panels, provides all clerical services for the court and collects and disperses child support payments.

A Times Free Press review of budget information in June found salaries in the clerk's office had steadily increased since Thompson took office in 2002 and outpaced revenues by 2007. The County Commission denied her requested $336,000 budget increase for the fiscal year that started July 1, which she said she needed to make ends meet. Commissioners then told Thompson she needed to cut staff to close expected budget gaps. Thompson has worked for the county for 47 years.

Both the commission and school board chairman said they would examine issues within the office but weren't ready to recommend specific changes.

"Whoever gets that position will have to assess the office and make changes as they're needed," Evatt said. "Everybody has to personalize their office."

Henry and Evatt are related, but barely. Henry is the brother of Evatt's stepmother. The two said they didn't have a close relationship and said the race isn't personal.

"I feel like there will probably be some more people that will get into this race before the deadline," Henry said. "I'm not singling out one opponent in this one."

Staff writer Louie Brogdon contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at 423-757-6249 or khardy@timesfreepress.com.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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