On a 3 to 2 party line vote, the GOP controlled DeKalb County Election Commission met Friday afternoon at the courthouse and named a Republican, Dennis Stanley as the new Administrator of Elections. He is expected to assume the duties around the first of May.
Lisa Peterson, a certified administrator who held the position for more than ten years, did not receive enough votes to keep her job.
Nolan Turner, a Democrat, made a motion to place Peterson's name in nomination for the position. Democrat Kenneth Moore seconded the motion. But two votes is all Peterson could get. Republican members Barbara Vanatta and Jim Dean voted against Peterson and Republican Chairman Walteen Parker chose not to vote.
In nominating Peterson, Turner praised her for the job she has done and said few if any are more qualified for this position. "I don't think anyone could have done a better job than Lisa Peterson. We employed her, not as a Democrat or Republican. We employed her to do the job. And I don't think we could find anyone in DeKalb County or very few anyway that would say that she hasn't been kind and courteous and very effective and efficient in her daily life, as far as running the operation of the election office. As a matter of fact, she is a certified administrator. She is one of the top administrators in the state and I do not see any reason why we should change at this particular point in time."
"Turner later added "Very few times as Chairman have I had to come down to work out things with her because of problems we've had because she had already worked them out. I appreciate her very much."
A few members of the public who attended the meeting applauded Turner's remarks.
Moore also expressed his support for Peterson. "We did hire her bipartisan. We didn't even ask her whether she was a Republican or Democrat, and as of today I still don't know. I've never asked her. She has done an outstanding job and is one of the best we've ever had. I will not say the best because I might hurt somebody else's feelings but she has done an outstanding job."
After Peterson failed to get the three votes she needed, Dean then placed Stanley's name in nomination for administrator. Vanatta seconded the motion. Chairman Parker joined them in voting for Stanley while Turner and Moore voted no.
After the vote, Turner addressed the commission again " A lot of DeKalb Countians are upset because of this decision. Let me say I love all of you (election commissioners). I think the world of you and I assure you that we're going to work together regardless of what transpires here today. We've got to think of what's best for DeKalb County and carry on the work of the election commission. I've been on the commission 30 years and never had this come up before. We've all worked together, Republicans and Democrats alike, without any opposition. Not one dissenting vote in my 30 years have we had on the election commission. Everything has been unanimous and that's the way it should be. Because if we're not, we're going to be like a lot of counties where they're at each other's throats constantly and I don't want that in DeKalb County. I want all of you to know I think this is wrong but the best way to right the wrong people is in the next election. If the State House and State Senate in the next election goes back to the Democrats then we (election commission) will switch to another 3-2 Democrat control. So I challenge each Democrat here tonight to think about that in the next election because that is something we need to study and think about what's best for DeKalb County."
Chairman Parker explained that since the administrator position was "open" with a new election commission, Peterson was not being fired, just not re-hired. She added that the administrator serves at the pleasure of the election commission. " I don't look at this as a dismissal, but simply as not a re-hire. The position is open with the new commission and therefore the commission has spoken for Mr. Stanley."
Parker added "I do want to welcome Mr. Stanley aboard. I've read his articles in the newspaper for years and they're always non-partisan and non biased, and I want to thank him for his service in keeping our small town newspaper here. I know he's been responsible for keeping that rather than having it somewhere else, especially the way times are now. I know it's been a great deal of responsibility and sometimes probably not with a lot of appreciation because a kids picture was not in the paper often enough but I do know that looking at it from the standpoint of education, he's been extremely fair in reporting any kind of news story."
Moore later added "I have nothing against Dennis Stanley. I've always liked him but I just think we're doing the county a grave injustice by replacing Lisa because she is well trained and there's going to have to be some money spent to train Dennis. It's just got to be politics."
Chairman Parker responded, "Mr. Stanley is qualified I think in his managerial and all the duties he had to perform at the newspaper."
Moore answered, "We'll see".
Chairman Parker also denied assertions that the Republican majority violated the open meetings law. "I would like to go on record as saying there have not been any secret meetings among anybody about what is going on."
"I also want to reiterate what Mr. Turner said in that we will all work together. It's what is best for DeKalb County, for the voters of DeKalb County."
Turner read a letter by local attorney Sarah Cripps, in support of Peterson. In it, Cripps wrote, "The purpose of this letter is to express my strong and wholehearted support for Lisa Peterson and to condemn the single-minded partisanship which has led to the decision of the Election Commission to terminate Ms. Peterson from the position which she has held for more than a decade."
"For more than ten years, Ms. Peterson has devoted herself to a faithful and impartial execution and application of the federal and state laws governing elections. Ms. Peterson is a knowledgeable and an experienced administrator."
"Unfortunately, certain members of our Election Commission have decided that knowledge and experience are of no consequence. These members have, instead, proved that the 'spoils system' is alive and well in DeKalb County. Additionally, even more disturbing, these members have, in my opinion, blatantly violated Tennessee's Open Meetings Law by secretly determining to terminate Ms. Peterson and by selecting Ms. Peterson's apparent replacement in secret. This conduct makes a mockery of Tennessee's Open Meetings Law and of our democratic process. Finally, I am compelled to observe that each member of this election commission swore an oath to faithfully and impartially discharge the duties of your office. In my opinion, those who vote to terminate Ms. Peterson have abrogated this solemn oath and have elevated party poltics to a dizzying height."
"In closing, I appeal to each member of this election commission to vote according to the dictates of his or her conscience and not to the demands of a party line. I appeal to each of you to afford to Ms. Peterson the same fairness, impartiality, and blind justice that you would wish to have meted out to you were you standing in her shoes."
After the meeting, Stanley said he is looking forward to serving the people of DeKalb County. "I am elated and even though there was some opposition today, I do feel like all five election commissioners want an honest and fair election process. That's what I want so as a result, at the end of the day, we're on the same team."
Prior to the vote on Stanley, the election commission re-organized.
Former Chairman Turner called the meeting to order and accepted nominations for Chairman. Parker was nominated and elected by acclamation 5-0.
Turner was nominated as Secretary and he was also elected unanimously by acclamation. The position of secretary goes to a member of the minority party
(Top Picture- Dennis Stanley and Walteen Parker)
(Bottom Picture- Front left to right- Nolan Turner and Walteen Parker- Back left to right- Kenneth Moore, Jim Dean, and Barbara Vanatta)