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Hammond keynotes Farragut Rotary Club
Commissioner sheds light on upcoming ‘Sunshine’ trial


Knox County Commissioner Mike Hammond shared his opinion on the pending Sunshine lawsuit with members of the Farragut Rotary Club at the club’s meeting Wednesday, Aug. 22.

“There is no question that we are living in historic times in Knox County from a political standpoint. We cannot find anywhere in the state of Tennessee where the State Supreme Court came in and said you must remove 12 office-holders,” Hammond said. “Frankly we have not found anywhere in the nation in modern times where 12 office-holders have had to be replaced at one time.”

A jury trial has been set for Tuesday, Sept. 11, in what has become known as the Sunshine lawsuit, where the News Sentinel filed a lawsuit against Knox County Commission.

The suit, Hammond said, centers on discussions that several County Commissioners allegedly had before appointing new commissioners Wednesday, Jan. 31, which the paper claims is a violation of the Sunshine Law.

“Nowhere can we find where a judge or an appellate court has said what is a meeting. Knox County’s position is if you are going to violate the Sunshine Law, you have to have a quorum. There are 19 members of County Commission, the county law director’s position is that in order to deliberate you have to have 10 people present,” he said. “The Sunshine Law as interpreted by the attorney general and others is that a meeting is two people, even if you have a board of 19 or seven or nine. That’s one of the issues that will be resolved in court.”

Hammond said there is the possibility of avoiding trial.

“Now let’s say we go through three to four weeks of trial and we are found guilty — what is the remedy? The remedy is a redo. They’re not going to put us in jail, they’re not going to fine us; the statute doesn’t call for that,” he said. “The statute calls for a redo. That means that we would go back to the original commission; everyone would go back to their jobs prior to Jan. 31. We would come in and decide what action we want to take after that.”

Knox County Commission is considering a voluntary redo.

“If the News Sentinel and the court would agree, we would voluntarily do a redo,” he added. “We would be able to elect anyone we want. My position on the redo is if we’re doing it to avoid a lawsuit, I’m against it. If we’re going to come up with a plan that will help restore some integrity and credibility back on County Commission, then I’m all for looking at it. If all we’re going to do is come in and rubber stamp everything that was done, I’m against it. I haven’t found anyone in favor of that.”

However, “There are those who have contacted me and said ‘we want a trial. We want to know what happened, and the only way to know is for you guys to raise your right hand and put it out there.’ I don’t mind doing that,” he said.

Jim O’Brien, past Rotary president, agreed.

“I personally believe that we ought to proceed with the trial. … They need to have a trial, and it needs to come out as to who did what to whom and when. After we get the results of that then we can proceed with whatever the remedy may be,” he said.

Other Rotarians weren’t so sure.

John Hoffman said, “I’d like to seem them do [the redo] and get it over with. We’re going to spend $1 million on a trial, and I think we could do something better with it. … Do something constructive.”

Hammond suggested a redo could happen as early as September.

 

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