Law and disorder

Larry Van GuilderAs I see it

Clinging to a view that places you in a decided minority among your peers doesn’t make you wrong, but it should inspire you to reconsider.

That’s the position in which Knox County finds itself as we trundle along electing a law director every four years, and in partisan fashion, too. It’s rather like electing the director of public works. Can you imagine Engineering and Public Works director Jim Snowden going door-to-door to sell voters on his plan to widen county roads and – while he’s at it – get tough on potholes? Me neither.

Let’s get high-minded and say personal or political prejudice shouldn’t color the electing versus appointing debate. Because political affiliations may cause periodic episodes of insanity, otherwise known as “cronies’ disease,” just saying so won’t get it done. Better pile on the facts and hope somebody is paying attention.

The shattered bromance between our county mayor and the law director provides a case in point. Distressed over the law director’s stubbornness in pursuing a suit against the pension board and a handful of deputies, the mayor said loads of money would be squandered unless the suit was settled. Sporting a devilish grin, the law director replied, “Sue me!” So, the mayor did.

Although the county was effectively suing itself in the pension board imbroglio, the mayor sought private litigators in this instance. It would hardly have done for Armstrong to represent himself against himself as the mayor’s counsel, even if Lewis Carroll would have been highly amused. Curiouser and curiouser!

In due course, the issue came before Chancellor John Weaver who ruled last December that the mayor isn’t called the chief executive for nothing. The ruling restored Jacobs’ winning smile but failed to dislodge the chip from his shoulder. (The one engraved “BUD.”)

Appointed or elected, a relationship can go sideways between a mayor and the attorney. Only God and Terry Franks herself know why she appointed Jay Yeager to the law director position.

Franks and Yeager, the Frazier and Ali of Anderson County politics, albeit with less class than the late heavyweights, have slugged it out from the start. A double Kane chokeslam may be warranted yet.

Could we ever go wrong by trusting voters to make the choice? Well.

It wasn’t so long ago that an elected law director here entered the Hall of Shame when discovered pilfering from private clients, not the public. The distinction didn’t save his job or his law license.

Last fall the county commission voted 7-1 to authorize the mayor to settle the pension suit. But it would be a mistake to read the vote as anything other than the belief the mayor had proven his case regarding the suit.

Maybe a groundswell is building to support a charter amendment, but it may be just as likely that Commissioner Carson Dailey, breaching the wall of silence most of his peers huddle behind, speaks for a “silent majority.”

“I’m one person who believes the voters should rule. If the voters want it, I’m for it.”

Dailey’s statement is open to interpretation, so I think we should let the best attorney I know, Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch, weigh in through the words of his daughter, Scout: “Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.”

Preach, Atticus, preach.

Larry Van Guilder is the business/government editor for KnoxTNToday.

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