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City challenges recall law

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By PATRICK HALL, The Wilson Post
In light of a recent petition to recall Ward 6 Lebanon City Councilor Kathy Warmath, the council is challenging a state law pertaining to recall elections, asking for an official opinion on the law from the state Attorney General.

City Attorney Andy Wright is drafting the resolution and will send it to members of the Tennessee General Assembly, requesting a ruling from Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr.

If you have so many votes that put you into office, those should be the votes that take you out of office, Warmath said during Tuesday nights council meeting.
Warmath made the initial request during the council meeting, and the rest of the council agreed to have Wright draft a resolution.

A petition to recall Warmath was certified by the Wilson County Election Commission on Oct. 17 and Beulah Garrett, the petitions author, is currently seeking the 2,186 signatures necessary to force a recall election next year.

Warmath felt the state law TCA 2-5-151 was an unfair method of recalling an elected official, even saying the law is unconstitutional. She said she has had a lawyer look at the wording of the law and felt there were issues that made it a bad way of handling the recall process.

Wright said he had reviewed the state law and said he also noticed the same issues that Warmath felt were unfair.

I share your concerns for what Ill say is an inequity in the language, Wright said.

According to TCA 2-5-151, a registered voter in the city must file for petition and have it certified by the local election commission for proper form. Upon certification, the law states the petition must be signed by 15 percent of the registered voters in the city, or 2,186 signatures, within 75 days.

A recall election would then be held at the same time as the next general election and only voters who live within the respective ward would be able to vote to recall or not recall the elected official.

It potentially relates to every one of us, including the mayor, Warmath said of the law.

She added that voters in Wards 1-5 could influence a recall in Ward 6 or any other scenario where voters from one ward could force a recall in a different ward. Warmath felt this was unfair to the voters who elected her to represent them in Ward 6 and said she wouldnt want the same situation to happen to any other member of the council.

Wright pointed out the Lebanon City Charter handles recall elections in a much different manner and said the state law was written in such a way that makes it supersede the charter.

According to the Charter, Section 14A, a petition to recall an elected official must be signed by at least 50 percent of the total votes cast for the office held by the incumbent at the last regular election.

Wright said there are good and bad provisions in the state law, saying it is good the state law requires more signatures on a petition. He said the charter requires the number of signatures be greater than or equal to the number of voters in Ward 6 who cast their vote in the previous election.

Warmath won the previous election over William Durham by a margin of 1,069 to 714. With a total of 1,789 votes cast, according to the charter, only 895 signatures would be required to force a recall election. There were six write-in votes for Ward 6 in the last election.
It would take half of how many voted in Ward 6 in the last election, Wright said, referring to the city charter.

Also, under the charter, a special election would be held to recall an official within 30 days if the required number of signatures is obtained. During that election, only Ward 6 voters would cast their vote to recall or not recall Warmath. Wright pointed out the fact that a recall election is held at the same time as the next general election is one of the good provisions in the state law.

Warmath said holding a special election would cost the city money it could spend elsewhere. However, Wright said under the state law, the recall election would take place when a regular election is already being held and wouldnt cost any additional money.

He did say the city should be allowed to stick to its charter when electing or removing officials from office.

If were going to use the provisions in our charter for elections, then we should use the provisions in our charter for removal, Wright said.

Wright said he will send the resolution to District 46 State Rep. Mark Pody, District 57 State Rep. Linda Elam and District 17 State Sen. Mae Beavers, who then have to officially make the request to Cooper. The Attorney General does not give formal opinions to local officials.

I think the local government officials were wearing them out, Wright said. He added the policy of not giving opinions to local officials was enacted several years ago.

Sending the resolution to state legislators will almost guarantee a response from Cooper on the law. According to Wright, when a legislator asks for an opinion on a law, the Attorney General will comply.

Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at phall@wilsonpost.com.

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