Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

July 13, 2009

Election commissioners admit Sunshine Law violation, deny conspiracy against Smith

An attorney defending commissioners serving on the Cumberland County Election Commission admitted the group violated the state's Open Meetings Act (Sunshine Law) in naming Sharon York as administrator of elections.

The admission was made in the defense's answer to the complaint filed by former Administrator of Elections Suzanne Smith. The answer to the complaint was filed July 7, 2009 in the Circuit Court of Cumberland County. Defendants in the case are Cumberland County Election Commission members Denver Cole, Thomas Henderson and Calvin Smart.

"The defendants admit that they agreed and decided in advance of the April 22, 2009 Election Commission meeting that they would appoint Sharon York as administrator of elections, which resulted in the termination of the plaintiff (Suzanne Smith) as administrator of elections ...," the response states.

The admission of the commission raises the question if York's appointment made on April 22, 2009 is legal. In other cases of Open Meetings violations, governmental action taken place during that meeting is considered null and void. If that is the case, can York legally be paid by the county, or is the state liable for her salary since the election commission is a state entity?

Although the defendants admit violating the Sunshine Law, they deny it was politically motivated and also move for a dismissal of Smith's complaint for punitive damages and demand that a jury try the case.

The complaint fails to state a claim for punitive damages and in the alternative they move to "bifurcate" (separate) the issue of punitive damages so it can be discussed separately, Jeffrey Beemer, attorney for the defendants, responds.

The defendants also admitted in the answer they did not allow an application process for the administrator of elections position and did not allow anyone else to apply for the position.

The complaint filed in Circuit Court in May named the three new Republican election commission members, Cole, Henderson and Smart, as defendants who voted to name Sharon York for the administrator of elections position, removing Suzanne Smith from the job, during its April 22, 2009 meeting.

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