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Role of constables questioned

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By The Staff

By DAMON LAWRENCE

Roane Newspapers

The Roane County Commission selected Kingston police officer Caleb Strayer to fill the constable vacancy in the 6th District.

The decision was made at Monday night’s commission meeting.

The discussion turned out to be more about the validity of constables and how to get rid of them than filling the vacancy.

Five commissioners passed when it was their turn to vote.

One of the most outspoken was commissioner David Olsen.

“I’ve been on the commission a long time, and I have yet to fully understand what the authority and the responsibilities of a constable are,” Olsen said. “Somebody just told me that the constable could arrest the sheriff. We don’t want to go there. The position needs clarity and the way to clarify it is simply to let the position pass into history.”

Commission Chairman Troy Beets had to shout Olsen down at one point when Olsen insisted on having a debate about getting rid of constables. Beets told Olsen that wasn’t the objective of the meeting.

“We can have that discussion, but not at this particular time,” Beets said. “We’re here to fill this vacancy.”

Olsen isn’t the only one who would like to see the position of constable eliminated. Commissioner Benny East, who also passed on the vote, said he’d like to see the position done away with.

“If the district attorney said he’s not going to pursue any fines or anything else like that brought by them, what is their purpose?,” East said. “To run around with a blue light on their car.”

The constable vacancy in the 6th District became open in August when embattled constable Mark Patton resigned under controversy.

Patton and his lawyer Chris Cawood have vowed to contest the county’s authority to select a replacement.

They contend there was no constable vacancy because Patton’s resignation was never accepted properly.

The county contends it was.

District Attorney General Russell Johnson basically rendered all Roane County constables powerless in August when he instructed members of his staff not to proceed on citations and warrants brought by constables.

Olsen said he’d like to see constables off the ballot in 2010.

“It’s a position that was needed in the past, but is no longer relevant to law enforcement in Roane County,” Olsen said.

Beets said the county commission will need an act by the state legislature in Nashville to get rid of the position in Roane County.

Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr. issued an opinion on the matter, which each side contends favors them.

“If Mr. Patton wants to litigate it and see if a judge tells us to do differently, we’ll do differently,” County Attorney Tom McFarland said. “But I don’t see any reason to change a system that’s been set by tradition and precedent for decades.”