published Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Post-election tensions high in Hamilton County Criminal Court clerk's post

The election is over, but Hamilton County Criminal Court Clerk Gwen Tidwell says it doesn't feel like it.

Clerk-elect Vince Dean, a Republican who represents House District 30 in the General Assembly, defeated Tidwell, a 20-year Democratic incumbent, by nearly 5,000 votes Aug. 7. Dean pulled 27,197 votes, while Tidwell garnered 22,546.

Dean will leave his state seat and start the clerk's post Sept. 2, but Tidwell said he's already moving in, despite not having the authority to do so.

"I had taken four days off last week, and he came in and told my chief of staff to let him into my locked office," Tidwell said. "I think he's just game playing. You know my staff, most of them are worried about their jobs -- as they are whenever there is a change."

Shortly after Dean's visit, he told local media that Tidwell had packed up and left office early. She said she had packed some of her personal belongings, but she was only on vacation for a few days.

On Monday, Tidwell said Dean also brought his new chief of staff, Brad Tucker, and introduced him to the current employees -- including the one he would be replacing.

But Dean said Monday he means no harm and he's only trying to make the transition smooth.

"I went down to introduce myself and met some of the employees. Nothing formal, just putting their minds at ease," he said. "We have no intentions of firing anyone. I would really not be a very smart man to go in and start firing people right off the bat. There is a lot of institutional knowledge there."

Dean said he's just trying to hit the ground running next month. He has requested the organizational chart for the office and all contracts the clerk's office was involved with.

"I'm not doing anything or giving any orders or anything like that. They will keep operating as usual," Dean said.

When asked about instructing Tidwell's staff to let him into her locked office, he said he just wanted to see it.

"I just wanted to take a look at the office and see what space I was going to be occupying. I just wanted to look at it. I had never been back in that office. But it appeared at the time there was nothing in the office but furniture. I didn't go through any drawers or anything," Dean said.

Dean says he has not spoken with Tidwell since the election.

"If she wanted to talk to me, she could. The election's over," Dean said.

East Ridge City Councilman Marc Gravitt won the Republican nomination to fill Dean's seat in Nashville. He faces no Democratic opponent in November.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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