Johnson City Press Tuesday, September 2, 2014

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In and out: Field in trustee's race shuffled

March 6th, 2014 9:19 pm by Gary B. Gray

In and out: Field in trustee's race shuffled

The extended qualifying deadline for candidates seeking Washington County’s vacant trustee seat ended at noon Thursday with three on the ballot for the May 6 Republican primary.

In less than one week, the incumbent trustee unexpectedly pulled out, the husband of the county’s former administrator of elections unceremoniously fired two years ago picked up papers, the trustee’s perennial opponent dropped out, and a relative unknown tossed his hat in the ring.

When Washington County Trustee Jack Daniels withdrew as a candidate Feb. 27, a state law known as the Anti-Skullduggery Act of 1991 automatically went into effect.

The move caused some commotion at the Washington County Election Commission office. Administrator of Elections Maybell Stewart said she learned of the law one day later, after election commissioners had certified the candidates. She said nothing had come to her attention that day that made her suspicious anything was awry.

When a qualified incumbent withdraws on the last day to do so, the law extends qualifying for an additional seven days, which was noon Thursday. The withdrawal date moved to four days after the last day to qualify, which now is March 10.

Republican Pamela Fitzgerald, who lost her bid to defeat Daniels for the spot in the last five elections, withdrew her name from contention Thursday morning. Meanwhile, Republican Willie Hilbert picked up filing papers.

Daniels, who withdrew at 11:22 a.m. — just 28 minutes before the noon deadline — said he would be throwing his support behind current Washington County Republican Party Chairman Michael Hartman, who will have to step down from that position should he be elected.

Hartman, who had picked up papers to run for a 6th District County Commission seat, said he decided to run for trustee instead and that he respects Daniels and his staff and their stewardship of taxpayer funds in the trustee’s office.

“I knew that Mr. Daniels had served the county well, and I heard that he may be retiring,” Hartman said Thursday. “I struggled with it for a couple weeks. I called Mr. Daniels and Mrs. Fitzgerald to let them know I was picking up papers and intended to qualify.

“I decided earlier this year that I would pursue public service in county government at some level,” he added. “And I see it as just that — public service. I’ve recently served as Washington County Republican Party chairman and believe we have made great strides in our local party by bringing together the various factions for the common good of our party and community.”

T.C.A. 2-5-101(i) requires county Election Commissions to extend the qualifying for each party holding a primary for the specific office (Republicans); parties authorized by law to nominate candidate by means other than primaries (Democratic Party); and persons qualifying for the nonpartisan (independents) general election (Aug. 7).

However, there were varying interpretations of the law late last week. Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins called the Johnson City Press to say a Democrat would be eligible to run, but the party would have to call for a caucus before the new qualifying deadline expires.

Stewart said Thursday she had spoken with Goins to make sure the matter was clear.

“He did say that the extension does apply to Democrats, but it does not apply to independent candidates,” she said.

Former Administrator of Elections Connie Sinks made the Press aware of the state law Feb. 28, the same day her husband, Monty Treadway, picked up papers to run for the spot. Treadway is the county’s former assessor of property.

County election commissioners abruptly fired Sinks during a 2012 meeting. Stewart was asked to come into the meeting room just minutes after Sinks was escorted out of the Washington County Courthouse by a sheriff’s deputy.

Neither Fitzgerald nor Treadway were immediately available for comment.

Hilbert said he decided to run when he read in the Press that the qualifying deadline had been extended.

“I’m the former fire chief for the Sulphur Springs Volunteer Fire Department,” Hilbert said late Thursday. “I did have to be elected to that position, but this will be the first public office I’ve run for. The extension gave me the opportunity, and I took advantage of it. But if I am elected, I’ll only serve one term.”

The dust may not yet have settled. But for now, Hartman, Treadway and Hilbert are Daniels’ possible successors.

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