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Three express interest in vacant seat

Three county residents have expressed interest in being appointed to fill the vacant Third District seat on the Unicoi County Board of Education created by the death of board member Dwight Bennett on Nov. 25.
According to officials in Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch’s office, Ruth Gaines, Tracy Moore and Norman O’Dell have submitted their names for consideration by the Unicoi County Commission when it meets in a special called session at the Unicoi County Courthouse on Monday, Jan. 5, at 6 p.m.
O’Dell ran for a seat on the school board during the August election. He came in third place behind Bennett and Steve Willis with 393 votes.
A public notice recently issued by Lynch’s office regarding the special called session states that at that meeting the commission is set “to consider and vote on candidates to fill the unexpired term for a member of the board of education for the Third Civil District.”
Also during the Jan. 5 meeting, the commission is set to “consider and adopt rules of procedure for eliminating nominees in case of multiple nominations to this position.”
In order to be considered for the position, registered voters of the Third District should submit his or her name to the county legislative body for consideration. The names may be submitted in writing to Marie Rice, chairwoman of the commission, in care of the Unicoi County mayor’s office, prior to the meeting. Names may also be submitted in person at the Jan. 5 meeting.
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Upon Bennett’s death, the responsibility of appointing someone from the Third District to fill his seat fell on the commission to do so at its next regularly scheduled or special called meeting. This is stipulated in Tennessee Code Annotated 49-2-202 (e)(1).
The commission typically meets in regular session on the fourth Monday of each month. Due to the Christmas holiday, the panel voted 7-2 to cancel its scheduled Dec. 22 meeting during its November meeting.
On Dec. 16, Commissioner Loren Thomas, whose wife Cathy Thomas serves as the chair of the school board, submitted a petition to Lynch’s office bearing the signatures of himself and four other commissioners requesting that the commission meet in a special called session prior to the school board meeting to vote on the contract of Director of Schools Denise Brown. Brown’s contract stipulates that the board must vote on her contract by Jan. 15.
Joining Thomas in signing the petition were commissioners Glenn White, John Mosley, Walter Garland and Bridget Peters. Mosley, Garland and Peters are the three Third District representatives on the commission.
On Dec. 12, Lynch announced that a special called meeting of the commission would not take place before Jan. 15 and that the commission would discuss appointing someone to fill Bennett’s seat during its regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 26.
“Since this issue is obviously very politically charged, contentious, seems ripe with personal agendas and appears to be closely split, I think it would be in the best interest of the county commission, school board and the school system to either choose or start the process of choosing someone to fill that vacancy at the regular Unicoi County Commission session in January,” Lynch said in a press release issued by his office.
Thomas recently told The Erwin Record that calls from citizens and fellow commissioners regarding the plans not to have a special called meeting prompted him to look into the issue further.
“I began researching the TCA codes and found that TCA 5-5-105 declared that ‘upon written application to the chair of the legislative body by a majority of the members of such body, then in that instance, it shall be mandatory for the chair to call a special session of such body’,” Thomas said. “This same TCA code further stated that ‘the convening date of such body shall not be more than 15 days nor less than 48 hours from the filing of such application with the chair’.”
Notice of the Jan. 5 special called meeting was given on Dec. 18.
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Bennett won a seat on the school board during the August election and began serving on the board in September. Bennett was elected to represent the county’s Third District.
The remaining five members of the school board are First District representatives Cathy Thomas and Garland “Bubba” Evely, Second District representatives Lisa White and Tyler Engle and Third District representative Steve Willis.
Bennett was also serving as an alderman for the Town of Unicoi at the time of his death. The Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to appoint Jeff Linville to fill the vacancy left by Bennett on that board during a meeting on Dec. 15.