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Knox Sheriff scoffs ‘term limits’ lawsuit


Reportedly inspired by a Shelby County judge’s ruling, a lawsuit filed by a former Knox County commissioner concerning term limits threatens to halt the political careers of many Knox County elected officials.

A two-term limit was approved by voters in 1994 as an amendment to the Knox County charter, but was later overturned.

But the success of a similar Shelby County case reportedly inspired a lawsuit filed by former Knox County Commissioner Bee DeSelm, who resigned in 1994 after two terms. While the lawsuit specifically seeks the removal of Sheriff Tim Hutchison, who is serving his fourth term [since 1990], all re-elected county officeholders are targets.

However, while the legal and political wheels may be frantically turning for many office holders, “I’m pretty ambivalent about it, frankly,” said John Griess, one of three Fifth District commissioners representing the Farragut area serving his third term.

“It’s not how I make my living, I just try to give back to the community and if a judge at some point or a Supreme Court at some point says I’m out, it’s just the way it is,” said Griess, a former vice mayor of Farragut, town alderman and FHS teacher who was first elected to county commission in 1994.

“If some entity at some point says, ‘you’re done,’ then I’m done and I’m happy with what I’ve done. I don’t live and die this job, but I try to do a good job at it.”

As for the sheriff, Hutchison fired back at DeSelm’s attorney and legal adversary, Herbert S. Moncier, through a Sheriff’s Office Web site (www.knoxsheriff.org) posting headed “Herb Does it Again.” “Surely, Moncier can read the law.  He knows it doesn’t apply to constitutional offices or he would have sued me before the 1998 election and before the 2002 election,” Hutchison said.  “I am shocked he would single me out because under his theory, term limits would affect everyone in the courthouse. …”

In addition to the sheriff, a court-ordered recognition of the ’94 county charter amendment would affect Griess among 14 of the 19 commissioners considering a run for office in 2006.

“That would be a big turnover on the commission, it’ll be a loss of a lot of experience, I’ll put it that way,” said Craig Leuthold, another of the Farragut area county commissioners representing Fifth District.

Though Leuthold is one of the five serving his first term and currently not affected — also including Mike Hammond of Fifth District — “I’m not in favor of term limits,” Leuthold said. “I think you lose experience. I think people should have the choice of whether or not they would like to see any individual continue on. ...”

Leuthold’s father, Frank Leuthold, handed over the opportunity for his son to grab the Fifth District seat after serving on the county commission for 22 years, retiring in 2002.

“In my father’s case, people knew that he’d been there and continued to vote for him and support him because they felt like he did a good job,” Craig Leuthold said. “... I know that the state attorney general ruled that term limits, [in] the state constitution, he opined that you couldn’t put term limits on state constitutional offices.

“And that would include commissioners and other county-wide office holders, whether it be the clerk, the trustee, the assessor, register of deeds, attorney general, all of them.”

 

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