Politics permits change

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Marshall County's Election Commission today is to interview six top applicants for the job of election administrator, according to the commission's unanimous vote Monday night at the close of an unusually long session in the Hardison Office Annex.

Culled from an original list of 20 applicants, the six include incumbent administrator Jo Ann Henry, who's on paid leave in connection with the 3-2 vote on May 11 by commissioners to open the position to applicants and investigate complaints about election office operations.

"This is not a reflection on her work," Election Commission Chairman Don Wright said during the meeting. "This is a political situation" resulting from a change in the balance of power in the legislature from Democratic rule to Republican control.

After 140 years of Democratic control, Tennessee voters elected enough Republican lawmakers to trigger a state law that shifts the balance of power in state election offices and instead of having three Democrats on the county election commission, there are two, with three GOP members.

"This is not a lifetime position," said Wright, who noted President Obama has his own cabinet and other federally appointed leaders are different because Obama was elected.

Applicant Marlisa Ann Wallace received 20 points when election commissioners ranked their preferences on a scale of 1-5. Tristan Arnold received 18 points. The other four received 16 each. They are Henry, Laura Ann Neece, Tina Rogers and, perceived by some as the inside favorite, James Rucker.

Told that three local men in various leadership positions alleged that he'd tried to replace Henry with Rucker before commission Chairman Quenton Looney died, Wright discounted the information, confirmed that Rucker is his friend, but that he scored the same as three others.

"Obviously," Wright pointed out, "I couldn't get him 16" points, singlehandedly, because the most each member of the commission could assign was five points.

Wright did give Rucker five points, but Lisa Laster gave him two. Fred Fleischer assigned four. They are the Republican members of the commission. Steve Allen gave Rucker three. Chundra Davis gave him two.

Henry got fives from Allen and Davis. Wright and Fleischer gave her one each and Laster gave her four.

Wallace's points came thusly: Fleischer five; Wright, Allen and Laster, four; and Davis three.

Others who applied include: Wilford A. "Spider" Wentzel, a former county commissioner; Scottie D. Poarch, another former commissioner who ran unsuccessfully for county mayor; Shirley Lowe, the immediate past chair of the Marshall County Republican Party, mother of Laster and the only applicant who withdrew from consideration; and Elaine Fleissner, Emogene Spivey, Michael Troy Header, Angie Williams, Terri Hudson McMeen, Tammy Grubb, Lori Stewmon, Edward Abernathy, and Jerlene Smithson. Debbie Ingraham and Ellen Crosslin submitted applications that were postmarked last week, but their mail to the election office didn't arrive until Monday, so they were disqualified.