Negativity rebutted in clerk's race

Friday, July 30, 2010

FARMINGTON -- One of the more remarkable signs put up for Marshall County's Aug. 5 election says don't vote for a particular county commissioner and on the other side it says don't vote for the incumbent circuit court clerk.

The sign is near the home of Travis Whaley, an employee of the Marshall County Highway Department, who was in a dispute with Commissioner Wilford "Spider" Wentzel over a pond near Whaley's home and Whaley wanted Wentzel arrested for trespassing.

It was in the spring last year and the arrest didn't happen. Whaley said he hoped officials who behaved that way don't get re-elected. He's made it part of this summer's election. One side of the sign says don't vote for Spider Wentzel. The other says don't vote for Elinor Foster, the circuit court clerk.

That's drawn in Keith Hollingsworth, a former county commissioner who's challenging Foster in her bid for re-election. Hollingsworth was reluctant to speak about the sign and another matter. He repeatedly indicated that the phone call might end. It did, but only because his mobile phone battery died. He called back on a friend's phone.

"See Travis Whaley if you're interested in that sign," Hollingsworth said. Whaley was called several times. His employer, Roads Superintendent Jerry Williams called back saying someone was sent to where Whaley was working to inform him he had a call from the newspaper. Most of his position is presented from a June 5, 2009, story published here.

However, Thursday, Whaley called commenting on the two-sided sign: "I hope it's hurting them. Everybody says Keith (Hollingsworth) is pushing the sign, but he's not. He's innocent on that deal."

Hollingsworth was emphatic on that.

"I never encouraged him to put that sign up," Hollingsworth said. "I have gotten many calls about the sign. The only thing I can do is, tell them that's his business."

Wentzel said he inspected a pond near Whaley's home on a request from someone in his district. He walked there on Whaley Cemetery Road. The Roads Department maintains roads to cemeteries, when practical, for funerals. Whaley alleged Wentzel went too far and asked Foster to issue a warrant charging Wentzel with trespassing.

Foster declined to issue the warrant, explaining she could see Whaley was angry and under the circumstances he was trying to get a "vindictive" or "frivolous" warrant, meaning the situation indicated to her the charge had little chance of success in court.

"I just think I'm doing my job as a clerk," she said last year. "I'm not cavalier about issuing warrants."

Since that's the crux of Whaley's sign against Foster, her challenger was asked what he would do. Would Hollingsworth issue warrants to anybody who wants one?

"Whoever is in that office will have to look at each case to the best of their ability," Hollingsworth said. "Every situation will be looked at with an open mind like the duties of the clerk."

Asked Wednesday about the dispute about the sign, Foster noted the previous story, adding, "Let's leave it."

Decades ago, warrants were issued on request in some districts. A few years ago state lawmakers changed the law on how warrants are issued. More police investigation is required than before, she said some 13 months ago.

This summer, Wentzel complained to the District Attorney's Office about Whaley's sign. Wentzel said Whaley was sent a letter about the state law requiring a statement on who paid for the sign. It's a requirement for advertisements, too. The DA's office had no comment. Whaley was unavailable, but it would appear the sign has been altered to comply with the law.

Asked about the letter from the DA, Whaley said, "He scolded me."

Not including a statement about who paid for the sign is a misdemeanor, Whaley said.

Foster is aware of the legal situation.

"It's a First Amendment right," Foster said of posting opinion signs.

She was offered the opportunity to comment on the subjects that Hollingsworth discussed before he became reluctant to respond to various issues in the clerk's race.

He preferred to take the stance that he's running for the elected position and not against the incumbent.

"I just want to serve the people of the community," said Hollingsworth, noting his experience on the commission, the beer board, Wee Care Day Care, youth football, Little League, Babe Ruth and his lifetime residency here. He's a 1981 gradate of Marshall County High School.

"It's a treat and an honor to be in the race," he said. "Everyone has been real nice and real receptive... Nobody's been derogatory."

On the campaign trail Foster has learned this "is a great place to live... I've tried to contact as many individual voters as I can and I'd appreciate their vote."

She's a graduate of MCHS, Middle Tennessee State University and the Nashville School of Law. She's an Elks Club member, a 20-year member of the Kiwanis, 30-plus years in the Daughters of the American Revolution and a regent. She's coached soccer. Foster is a trustee of the 1st Presbyterian Church and a member of the Tennessee Association of Judicial Commissioners.

Early voting ends at noon Saturday. Election Day polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.