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Term extensions dead - for now
Apr 19, 2005 12:00 am
NASHVILLE — A bill to extend Lebanon city officials' terms of office suffered a potentially fatal blow Wednesday with State Rep. Stratton Bone chastising Lebanon Mayor Don Fox in a subcommittee hearing and succeeding in having a vote on the legislation postponed until a lawsuit over the bill is settled.
In a surprise move, Bone read a forceful, prepared statement before the House Local Government Subcommittee that addressed last week's combative appearance by Fox before the committee and a lawsuit alleging the bill violates state law.
"Last week, there were things said before the committee that were very inappropriate in my opinion," Bone told subcommittee members before a packed hearing room that included Fox and a delegation of Lebanon elected and appointed officials. "There were things said about me and the entire General Assembly."
Ultimately, Bone asked committee members to take the bill off the subcommittee's active calender until a lawsuit filed last week alleging the term extensions were illegal is resolved.
Bone suggested the lawsuit further compounds questions the public may have about the ethics of the General Assembly, a hot topic this legislative season.
"Last Thursday, there was a lawsuit filed in Chancery Court that listed me as a defendant," Bone said. "When that happened it not only tarnished my name but the entire General Assembly.
"There is much debate today concerning ethics and about how the General Assembly is viewed by the public. This lawsuit certainly didn't help that situation in my opinion."
Fox was the only elected official other than Bone and State Rep. Susan Lynn to speak in a similar subcommittee hearing last week on the bill's behalf.
Bone clarified his assertions about Fox after the meeting, saying comments Fox made asking committee members if he needed to hire a lobbyist to get his legislation through offended some members.
"I had some comments made to me over the last week asking whether the mayor was saying Stratton Bone couldn't get done up here what he needed done," Bone said.
Legislators on the committee complimented Bone and Lynn and showed support for Bone's statements with chair Rep. Edith Langster calling Bone a "role model" in the General Assembly.
"If anyone is doing any character assassination to either of you (Bone or Lynn) it is wrong," Rep. Ulysses Jones added.
Fox, who was visibly upset after the bill was shelved, disputed Bone's statement.
"The only statements made to the General Assembly were respectful," Fox said. "We appreciated their indulgence."
Bone also received praise for his move from the bill's lone opposition on the Council, William Farmer.
Farmer, who offered his own legislation via a lobbyist that would forbid such term extensions without a referendum, said Bone was "listening to the voice of the people."
"I'm not surprised the action was taken because of the hundreds of calls the legislators recieved about the term extension without the vote of the people," Farmer said. "I understand Rep. Bone made his position clear, and that he is obviously listening to the voice of the people."
It is unclear what path city officials may now take to realign the city's elections with the gubernatorial and presidential election cycles – the ultimate goal of the 13-month term extensions for Fox and other councilors.
A lawsuit by five city residents opposing the legislation is scheduled to be heard April 28. However, by law Wilson County Election Commission employees must begin to offer the public petitions to qualify to run for city office next week for the regularly scheduled October election – which includes Fox's seat.
City Councilor Kathy Warmath, on hand for the committee meeting, suggested there was another private act waiting in the wings and "already drawn up."
City Attorney Andy Wright did not return two telephone calls to his city hall office Tuesday from the newspaper seeking a copy of the bill.
Warmath was also critical of the lawsuit, which appears to be spearheaded financially by Wilson County Road Superintendent Steve Armistead and group of his employees who notarized records for court filings and gathered affidavits from plaintiffs.
"It really is a cowardly way of fighting a legislative battle," Warmath said. "It's a lawyer's way."
Lynn, who was on hand for the meeting but did not speak, suggested later in the day city leaders might consider compromise legislation that would pass the committee's muster.
"I think we did all we could do," Lynn said. "I think there is room to come back with another scenario that addresses the issue of the length of the term extension and the referendum question. I will work on another bill if asked and if it is approved by the Council."
Managing Editor Clint Brewer can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 13 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.