Silence not acceptance for Patton

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By Damon Lawrence

Court wasn’t in session at the Roane County Courthouse Monday night.

You might not have known it, though, judging by all the armed law enforcement officers that showed up.

The Roane County Commission held a public hearing to hear from people interested in the vacant constable position in the 6th District, which includes Kingston.

Sheriff Jack Stockton, his chief deputy and other members of the sheriff’s office sat in on the hearing, which lasted only 20 minutes. So did several Kingston police officers

Commissioners didn’t say much about the heavy law enforcement presence.

“My request to the sheriff was will we have someone from your office there like we usually do,” Commission Chairman Troy Beets said.

Kingston police officer Caleb Strayer and Ray Murray, who ran for the position in 2006, were the only people who expressed interest in the constable job.

The position became open when Mark Patton resigned under controversy in August. He’s since made it clear that he wants the job back.

Patton was in attendance at Monday’s hearing, but he didn’t address the commission. He refused comment after the hearing and directed all questions to his attorney Chris Cawood.

“Mr. Patton didn’t need to apply because there’s no vacancy,” Cawood said. “If he’d applied for it, it would have sort of been an admission that the job is vacant.”

Cawood cited an opinion by Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr., which in his view, supports Patton’s contention that his resigna-tion wasn’t accepted properly by the county, and is therefore null and void.

“Our position is that his supposed resignation was never accepted and therefore there is no resignation,” Cawood said. “As a matter of fact, the highest official in the state attorney general’s office says the same thing, so we fail to understand why they want to make such a big fuss of ap-pointing somebody to an office that doesn’t have a vacancy.”

County Attorney Tom McFarland disagreed with Cawood.

“If that’s the way he feels, he can take it up with the proper court,” McFarland said. “All I can tell you is our precedent that’s been established over many, many years was followed.”

Cawood brought up a recent issue that came up during construction of the new jail.

The city of Kingston was saying the county owed a reported $16,000 for a building permit.

However, Beets, who is also the mayor of Kingston, said the county did not have to pay the fee because of an attorney general’s opinion that ex-empted the county from paying.

“So, in one instance, they’re saying, ‘Well OK, let’s go along with the, attorney general,’” Cawood said. “In the next instance, they’re saying, ‘No.’ It looks like they’re just trying to please their own views. If I like his opinion, I’ll take it. If I don’t, I won’t.”

McFarland said he believes Cooper’s opinion on the Patton situation supports the county.

Patton submitted a letter of resignation on Aug. 9. He addressed it to County Executive Mike Farmer.

“Please note that my resignation is effective immediately,” the letter read.

Farmer notified the commission about the resignation at the August commission meeting.

“It was transmitted to the county commission the way it has been for decades in this county and it was accepted,” McFarland said.

“I don’t think you need 15 commissioners to stand up and throw their hands in the air and yell, ‘I accept.’ You can do that by long-established precedent and tradition, and that’s what we did.”

The commission could vote to fill the constable vacancy at the regular meeting on Nov. 19.

Strayer said he wants to restore the integrity of the position.

Murray said he’s the obvious choice since he received over 600 votes when he ran for the position in 2006.

“This was an open meeting to show that we’re having an open process, but this meeting tonight doesn’t preclude anyone else from coming the night of the 19th and showing interest,” Beets said.