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Committee asks county to seek power over constables

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By The Staff

By DAMON LAWRENCE

Roane Newspapers

The first step in what appears to be a long process in abolishing constables in Roane County was taken Thursday night.

A resolution that would ask the county’s legislative delegation to give the commission the power to abolish or control the police powers of constables was passed unanimously by the legislative liaison committee.

The request can be made to state Sen. Tommy Kilby and state Rep. Dennis Ferguson, County Commission Chairman Troy Beets said, by a majority vote of the county commission.

“I’m going to vote to go ahead and do this to see if we can’t get the power back,” Commissioner Chris Johnson said. “This does not mean that I have committed one way or another of doing away with constables. I just think the right thing to do is to allow the full commission to have their say.”

The controversy over the constable position started this past August. Former constable Mark Patton was at the center of the firestorm after allega-tions arose that he was using the position to harass off-duty police officers and intimidate residents.

Seventh District Constable L.K. “Butch” Barding attended Thursday night’s meeting to speak up for constables.

“Would we be here discussing this if it wasn’t for Mr. Patton?” Barding asked.

Beets said perhaps not, but he also countered Barding’s argument, saying if the Tennessee Constable Council had sought to rein in Patton sooner, the discussion probably wouldn’t be taking place, either.

“The thing with Mr. Patton went on for a long time,” Beets said. “There was a lot of problems with Mr. Patton, and only until we sat in this room right here with the district attorney general and the district attorney general laid out his edict, did the constables take action. This was after you guys knew of Mr. Patton’s thing.”

In response to the Patton controversy, District Attorney General Russell Johnson instructed members of his office not to proceed in court on cita-tions and warrants written by constables.

Patton was eventually relieved from his position with the constable council, Barding said.

Commissioner David Olsen brought up the idea of eliminating constables at last month’s commission meeting.

Constables are elected by voters in the districts they serve. They have full policing powers. Olsen said the police powers disturb him.

“I look upon the sheriff and the city police chiefs as the law enforcement arm of Roane County,” Olsen said. “I find it confusing and unsatisfying and a potential source of great trouble that there are other elected officials in the county who have law-enforcement capabilities.”

Beets said he is trying to get the resolution ready so it can be voted on at Monday night’s county commission meeting.

The commission is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. at the courthouse.