By Keeli Parkey
In a meeting notice sent to The Erwin Record and other media outlets on Thursday, May 5, the Unicoi County Republican Party announced that its Executive Committee will meet on Saturday, May 28, at 9 a.m. in the large courtroom of the Unicoi County Courthouse.
The purpose of the meeting is to address the placement of a candidate for Unicoi County Assessor of Property on the ballot in the Aug. 4 General Election.
The need to appoint a candidate for the August ballot was created after Margaret Seward, who died the morning of the March 1 primary, won the race for assessor of property in the county primary.
Wayne Peterson, another candidate on the primary ballot in the assessor’s race, died on Feb. 16. Alan “Rocky” McInturff was the third candidate on the ballot.
Jim Buchanan, chairman of the Unicoi County Republican Party Executive Committee, said the meeting is open to the public.
“The public is invited to come and observe,” Buchanan said, “but, this is not a county convention. This is a meeting of the Executive Committee that will act as a primary board. It is being done according to law.”
The Executive Committee was scheduled to address the vacancy on March 19; however, that meeting was canceled after the Tennessee Republican Party expressed concerns about the process for selecting a candidate, according to Jim Buchanan, chairman of the Unicoi County Republican Party Executive Committee.
“Brent Leatherwood (executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party) called me and advised us to cancel the meeting,” Buchanan said at the time.
Buchanan went on to say that the party was awaiting an opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General regarding the composition of the Executive Committee. One issue, according to Buchanan was whether or not Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committeeman Kent Harris and Committeewoman Sarah Sellers, both of whom serve Unicoi, Washington and Carter counties, could vote on the appointment of a candidate. Buchanan said this issue has been resolved.
“We are not electing anyone,” he said. “We are choosing someone to go on the ballot for the people to elect.”
With June 15, the deadline for individuals to qualify as write-in candidates on the Aug. 4 ballot, approaching, Buchanan said he urged the state party to allow the Executive Committee to meet. The decision to move forward with the meeting was made last week, he said.
The Erwin Record previously reported that the Unicoi County Election Commission convened on March 17 and the five-member panel unanimously certified the results of the primary. The panel includes Tom Reeves, Paul Monk, Roland Bailey, Marvin Rogers and Bill Beckman.
“When someone passes away and wins, you still certify whoever the winner is that was on the ballot and it effectively, immediately becomes a vacancy at that position,” Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey said during the March 17 meeting. “If this was a general election, the vacancy would be filled by the County Commission; however, since this is a primary election, state law says the party has the right to choose the candidate.”
Election Commission members then reviewed a letter Bailey received from Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins.
This letter states: “… when a party candidate dies, Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-13-204(a) allows the party who has lost its candidate to make a new nomination authorized by Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-13-203. According to Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-13-203(a)(1), a political parties may nominate candidates ‘by any method authorized under the rules of the party or by primary election under this title’.”
Also according to Goins’ letter, the party is not required to nominate a candidate for the Aug. 4 ballot.
“If the party chooses not to exercise its rights under the statute, the ballot will indicate that no candidate has qualified for the office of Assessor of Property,” Goings writes. “Realize that, in either event, Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-133 (i) allows a person to file a certificate of write-in candidacy no later than noon, prevailing time, the 50th day before the election. This deadline falls on June 15, 2016, at noon.”
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Peterson was appointed by the Unicoi County Commission to serve as assessor of property in April 2015 following the retirement of the previous assessor Patsy Bennett.
Following Peterson’s death, the Commission appointed Teresa Kinsler as the interim assessor of property at its March meeting. Kinsler has filed papers to appear as a write-in candidate for the position on the Aug. 4 ballot.