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Washington County school board candidate's eligibility called into question

Zach Vance • Updated Jun 14, 2018 at 10:02 AM

State election officials are investigating whether a candidate who’s already submitted his petition to run for a seat on the Washington County Board of Education is eligible to be on the ballot.

Current Washington County Commissioner Mitch Meredith, who also serves as the county’s director of finance and administration, has already filed a petition to run for one of three Washington County Board of Education District 3 seats during the August election.

However, as some users on the “Concerned Parents of Washington County Tennessee” Facebook page have noted, T.C.A. § 49-2-202 explicitly reads: “No member of the county legislative body nor any other county official shall be eligible for election as a member of the county board of education.”

Washington County Administrator of Elections Maybell Stewart said interpretation of that law is “kind of up in the air right now,” as she awaits guidance from state election officials.

Even though the title “county official” is not defined in same title as education, T.C.A. § 5-23-102 (4) does define “county officials” as being county trustee, register of deeds, county clerk, county judges, county clerks of courts, sheriff, assessor of property, county board of education, and the chief administrative officer of the highway or public works department.

Because Meredith already filed his petition with the appropriate number of voter signatures, Stewart said his name will appear on the August ballot unless state officials say otherwise.

“I’m waiting on official word from Nashville on that. I talked to them yesterday, and someone has already called them. They’re checking into that. They know the statute that the people have been quoting, and they are looking into that because there is another statute that they are also looking at,” Stewart said.

When asked what other statute was being studied by state officials, Stewart said she was unsure.

Other school board eligibility rules require that candidates be residents and voters of the county for which they are trying to get elected, and have a high school diploma or GED.

The Johnson City Press asked the Tennessee Division of Elections office on Friday about Meredith’s eligibility, but as of Wednesday, spokeswoman Madison Tracy said Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins has yet to make a decision.

“The coordinator of elections is still working on this. There is a quick turnaround on this since military ballots have to be finalized soon. Again, you will be my first call when I hear something, but it may not be today (Wednesday),” Tracy said in a text message to the Press.

Meredith did not seek reelection to the Washington County Commission in May, and he said his term will expire before the nonpartisan school board election in August.

“As of the date of the election, I would not be a member of the county legislative body, and statutorily, I don’t think I’m even considered an official. I mean officials are spelled out in T.C.A. (state law). I’m an employee just like (fellow commissioners) Mike Ford or Robbie McGuire or anybody else,” Meredith said.

“You have people that have official duties within the county, but are they considered a county official for the purpose of the definition for eligibility? I don’t think so.”

When asked if he knew about the statute potentially, Meredith said Wednesday was the first time he’d heard about it. 

“This is the first I’ve heard of it. The election commission did not indicate any problem. My understanding is that I would be eligible to serve, provided I am not a member of the county legislative body at the time of the election,” Meredith added.

“The fact that there is small but very active group of individuals who are determined to have specific, hand-picked individuals of their choosing elected to the Board of Education should cause the voters and taxpayers of Washington County to sit up and take notice. Through our school system, we invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the future quality of life for Washington County – our students, who will be our future workers and business leaders. We need to get it right.” 

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