ERWIN, Tenn. (AP) — A judge has dropped six official misconduct charges against former Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris.
The Johnson City Press reports that Judge John Kerry Blackwood ruled there was insufficient evidence to proceed with Harris’ trial, which started Monday.
It would have been Harris’ third trial. Two previous trials ended in hung juries.
During opening statements Monday, District Attorney General Tony Clark told jurors that county inmates were taken to property owned by Harris to bush hog it, mow it, cut wood and raze structures there.
Harris’ attorney said in court that Harris did not know the inmates were working on the property.
A grand jury in October 2011 indicted Harris on felony charges, including official misconduct, theft, criminal simulation, attempted aggravated assault and tampering with evidence.
A bill that could exempt planning commission members in six East Tennessee counties from disclosing their financial interests has been introduced by Sen. Ken Yager and Rep. Kent Calfee.
Calfee, a freshman Republican lawmaker from Kingston, said HB15 was introduced at the request of Roane County Mayor Ron Woody.
The measure also would apply in Campbell, Fentress, Morgan, Pickett, Rhea and Scott Counties which are included along with Roane in Yager’s state Senate district. Yager said the other counties were added because of a “communications error.” The senator said he has written officials in the other counties and will amend the bill to delete those counties where an objection is raised.
Planning commission members were not required to file the disclosures until last year, when the Legislature enacted a bill adding them.
The disclosure statements in question require public officials to list their financial holdings and sources of income, but not the amount of income. Planning commission members were not on the list of those required to file the statements until the General Assembly added them in legislation approved last year with little debate and by almost unanimous margins.
The first disclosure reports since the new law took effect are due on Jan. 31, according to the Tennessee Ethics Commission.
Woody said in an interview that the new law is “kind of intrusive” and a deterrent to finding people to serve on the commissions, which typically pay very little or nothing for their services. They are in a different situation than elected officials such as himself, he said.
“It may have been adopted for good reasons and this is an unintended consequence. Or it may have been adopted for bad reasons… (with the intent of) killing our planning commissions. I don’t know. But I’m a firm believer in the need for planning commissions,” Woody said.
The bill approved last year was sponsored by Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, who was not available for comment. A spokeswoman, however, said it was the senator’s own idea. In a committee meeting last year, Tracy said the bill was “just common sense” and that those overseeing development should have to disclose potential conflicts of interest.
Woody said the Roane County Planning Commission has “ethical members,” including some who retired in the area after a business career “up north” and who may have substantial stock and real estate holdings.
By making their holdings public, he said, “you get to the point where people don’t want to serve.”
Yager said he basically agrees with Woody.
“In these rural counties, they (planning commissioners) are essentially volunteers – in Roane County, I think they get $50 a month – and it’s hard to attract people anyway,” Yager said.
Republican Mark Green unseats Democratic Sen. Tim Barnes in Senate District 22, HERE.
Republican Steve Dickerson defeats Phil North in Senate District 20, HERE.
Democrat Bo Mitchell defeats Charles Williamson in House District 50, HERE
Republican Todd Gardenhire wins Senate District 10, HERE
Kent Williams, the state’s only independent legislator, wins a new term, HERE
Democratic Rep. John Tidwell wins a new term in House District 74, HERE.
In a radio ad, state Republican Chairman Chris Devaney is declaring the party’s backing for Elizabethton attorney Thomas Gray, who is opposing re-election of former House Speaker Kent Williams, the only independent member of the Tennessee Legislature.
Devaney earlier this year wrote election officials to declare Williams is not a “bona fide Republican” after the 4th House District incumbent picked up qualifying papers to run as a Republican. Williams was initially elected as a Republican, but joined with Democrats in 2009 to elect himself to a two-year term as House speaker and was subsequently booted from the GOP by former Republican Chairman Robin Smith.
The 30-second radio ad, sponsored by the Republican Party, is scheduled to run on two stations in the area, according to Adam Nickas, executive director of the state GOP. It doesn’t mention Williams.
“The election this November is the most important in our nation’s history,” says Devaney in the ad. “In Tennessee, we have a true conservative Republican running for state representative, and his name is Tom Gray.
“For the record, Tom Gray is the only Republican on the ballot in Carter County’s District 4. We need someone who can effectively work in Nashville to create more jobs for East Tennessee. Vote Republican. Vote Tom Gray this November.”
Williams, first elected in 2006, is rated a “probable” winner in the contest by the Tennessee Journal and enjoys a substantial financial advantage.
Gary has reported spending of about $5,700 so far in the campaign and had a cash balance of $3,304 on Oct. 1. He has guaranteed a $5,000 bank loan to the campaign and got $1,400 from Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough.
Williams’ reports show spending of more than $36,000 this year and an Oct. 1 cash balance of $47,242.
Rep. Julia Hurley lost Thursday’s Republican primary after serving one term. Former Roane County Commissioner Kent Calfee took 55% of the vote, while Hurley garnered 45%. Hurley and Calfee say they have not spoken to one another since the results came in and don’t intend to either.
But they did speak with WATE-TV: They’re each trying to look to the future instead. Kent Calfee says he had a feeling Thursday night’s numbers would come out in his favor.
“We got to feeling pretty good about the time early voting started, and we were just getting lots of positive feedback from both Roane and Loudon counties,” he said.
However, setting out to beat an incumbent was going to be tough.
“It’s hard to do and we knew it was an uphill battle from the beginning, and we think that gives us a lot of momentum going into the November election,” Calfee said.
Hurley says she also had a feeling about this election. “I’m not shocked at all. I wasn’t. My family and I had prepared for this election to go either way,” she said.
She understands how hard it is to unseat an incumbent, which she did herself.
“I took a seat that they had had for 18 years, and they worked very very hard to get it back. They chose a candidate who had voted half and half, and that’s wonderful. The voters decided what they wanted,” Hurley said.
She says she believes crossover voting contributed to her loss. “The Democrats came out and voted in the Republican primary and they got their candidates. You’ve got to commend them, you really do,” she said.
Hurley says just because she lost this election doesn’t mean the end of her political career. “One door closes. One door opens so we’re just keeping a positive outlook for the future,” she said.
Note: See also the collected election night Tweets, by of Julia Hurley, by Stephen Hale.
State Rep. Julia Hurley, R-Lenoir City, said she’s infuriated that visitors to the website known as hurleyforhouse.com are immediately directed to the website of Kent Calfee, her opponent in the August Republican primary.
From the News Sentinel’s Bob Fowler:
Both candidates said they were unaware of the website redirect until informed Friday by the News Sentinel. Local blogger Brian Hornback noted it on his site, Shock and Awe.
Hurley promptly cast blame on Calfee and his supporters.
But she also admitted that she didn’t know the registration status of hurleyforhouse.com, launched two years ago during her inaugural campaign, and she didn’t know whether her camp has been maintaining it. It appears someone took over the registration June 16.
“I think that this is dirty politics at its best,” Hurley said. “I think Mr. Calfee should be ashamed of himself and if he did not do it, he should reprimand whoever in his camp did.”
“And if he doesn’t know who did it, he should find out.”
Calfee on Friday said he, too, was surprised to learn of the Hurley campaign site redirect.
“I’m not technically savvy,” he said. “I called my wife, and she says evidently the (website) registration was not maintained.
“I would assume that if you’re holding office and you had a website, you would maintain the control of it.”
The website domain registration is parked with domainsbyproxy.com, operated by GoDaddy.com, which keeps the domain name-holder anonymous.
Something of an incumbent-challenger role reversal seems afoot this summer in the parts of Loudon and Roane counties where Republican voters will decide whether they want Julia Hurley or Kent Calfee to serve them in the state House of Representatives.
Typically in such primary contests, especially this year in Tennessee, the incumbent is being criticized by the challenger as not strong enough in pushing conservative values and perhaps as having already served too long in office. In the 32nd House District, the opposite seems the case.
Incumbent Rep. Hurley, 30, a Lenoir City resident seeking her second term, is on the attack. Challenger Calfee, 63, a former Roane County commissioner, says that he is not.
“I’m already a better legislator than my opponent. Out of 20 years on the county commission, he’s missed three years of meetings,” said Hurley. “I have a 100 percent voting record and a 100 percent attendance record.”
Further, she declares that Calfee has voted in Democratic primaries, most recently in 2008, and “financially supported Al Gore.” Calfee denied ever aiding Gore.
More is to come as the Aug. 2 primary approaches, Hurley said. Her campaign has researched his voting record on the commission and plans direct mail pieces pointing out what she perceives as shortcomings.
“Bless his heart, he’s got to an age where he’s completely forgotten what he voted for, and those things will be coming to light very soon,” she said.
Calfee says “it’s not my nature to be attacking people” and he has no plans to do so in campaigning against Hurley.
Still, he does say things such as, “I want to restore respect, dignity and professionalism to the seat.”
State Rep. Kent Williams, the Legislature’s only political independent after being banished from the Republican party in 2009, has picked up papers from the Carter County Election Commission for qualifying as both an independent and as a Republican in this year’s elections.
The state GOP declared that Williams could not run as a Republican after he joined with House Democrats to elect himself as House speaker. He was replaced as House speaker in 2011 by Beth Harwell after Republicans gained a bigger majority in the 2010 elections.
Williams, who calls himself a “Carter County Republican,” said he is exploring options. But Nickas said Wednesday that the Republican State Executive Committee would have to approve Williams readmission to the party and, “It would be my guess he would find the door still shut.”
The deadline for filing as a candidate for legislative office is April 5.
News release from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation:
Knoxville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation presented additional evidence to the Unicoi County Grand Jury today which resulted in additional charge against Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris. His attorney was served with another criminal summons this afternoon.
The Unicoi County grand jury indicted Harris on an additional count of official misconduct for using his county computer in November of 2011 to produce letters intended to solicit funds to pay his attorney fees. In October of 2011, the grand jury indicted Harris on six counts of official misconduct, one count of theft over $1,000, one count of tampering with evidence, one count of criminal simulation and one count of attempted aggravated assault. TBI began the investigation into allegations of misconduct made against Harris in September of 2010 after being requested by the 1st Judicial District Attorney General’s Office.
Harris is scheduled to appear in court on March 27, 2012 at 9:00 am for an initial appearance on the new charge. A July 2012 trial date set been set for the theft and criminal simulation charges.
Nearly three months after a Unicoi County grand jury indicted Sheriff Kent Harris on 10 felony charges, the county is maintaining a “wait-and-see” approach on what to do about the sheriff, reports the Johnson City Press. County officials are still waiting on action from the state attorney general’s office before making any moves of their own regarding Harris’ position, according to County Mayor Greg Lynch.
“It’s not anything that’s dead in the water,” Lynch said. “It’s on hold right now.”
In late October, the County Commission heard from County Attorney Doug Shults who, at that time, told the commission that he had received information from District Attorney General Tony Clark that the state attorney general’s office was looking into civil actions relative to Harris’ removal from office.
On Oct. 14, a grand jury returned 10 true bills charging Harris with 10 felonies, including six counts of official misconduct and one count each of tampering with evidence, theft over $1,000, criminal simulation and attempted aggravated assault.
Ouster proceedings can be initiated by the state attorney general’s office, the district attorney general’s office or the county. Should the County Commission seek the ouster, the costs associated with the proceedings would fall to the county.