It was a strange scene in which many Democrats and Republicans of the community came together in support of one and another hugging and shedding tears together for a common cause — retaining Administrator of Elections Suzanne Smith. It was to no avail, however.

In spite of the passionate pleas from both Democratic and Republican Party members, and an opinion from the Tennessee state attorney general, the newly appointed members of the Cumberland County Election Commission voted to remove a 33-year veteran and replace her with 5th District County Commissioner Sharon York.

York resigned her seat on the county commission approximately two hours later. See sidebar story.

"This is a black eye for all of us on the Republican Party," Ed Lewis, Fairfield Glade Republican Party chairman, said after the meeting. "It's not legal, moral, or Christian."

Three new Republican election commission members Denver Cole, Thomas Henderson and Calvin Smart voted to name Sharon York for the position. Democrats Lisa Phillips and Bob Austin voted against it.

The three new commission members were appointed by state Republicans based on the recommendation of state Rep. Eric Swafford.

Democrats in Nashville reappointed Commissioners Austin and Phillips. The newly formed election commission met for its first time Wednesday evening in an organizational meeting.

Swafford did not attend the standing room only meeting.

"It is my hope and the hope of many, many others that Suzanne be retained to continue this tradition of fairness and integrity in the election commission office. She has been a loyal and faithful servant to the commission and the county and I think now is the time to reward that loyalty by exhibiting our loyalty to her and voting to retain her as our election administrator ... ," Phillips said in her last speech as commission chairperson.

She continued to say the operation of the office is more complex than it may appear and Smith made it appear easy.

"Suzanne's hard work, dedication and the fact that she is so experienced may give the false impression that this is an easy job. Well, let me assure you it is not."

Shortly after, Thomas Henderson nominated Calvin Smith as election commission chairman. Henderson then changed the name to Calvin Smart. Denver Cole supported the motion and the vote was 3-2 in favor. Phillips and Austin voted against the motion. Henderson, Cole and Smart voted in favor.

Phillips was then voted in as secretary and then York was appointed.

In making his motion to name York, Henderson said he wanted to nominate "Karen York." He was quickly corrected by members and changed the name to Sharon York.

"You have three new people here and we're very nervous. Names were spoken in error," Calvin Smart said.

Shortly after the nomination was made Everette Bolin threw his keys across the room and onto the table and said, "I will not be a part of this."

Bolin has been a state certified voting machine technician with the county election commission for several years.

Prior to the vote many people attending requested to speak but were refused. Retired state Sen. Anna Belle O'Brien asked to know why the change was being made and asked for an explanation from the new members of the commission.

"We don't have all night to sit around here," Henderson said.

"I don't see a need for discussion," Smart said.

They would not answer and would not allow but a couple of people from the audience the time to speak.

"We deserve to know a reason," Ed Lewis demanded. "Something more than just 'because we can.'"

There was no response.

O'Brien said, "I don't understand this kind of politics ... We have a reputation as having the finest election commission across the state ... It's sad the way this has been handled. I hope you'll reconsider."

According to both the state attorney general and Cumberland County attorney, terminating an employee under circumstances of political party affiliation is a violation of both the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution.

Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr. on April 8 issued his opinion at the request of state Sen. Charlotte Burks.

"In light of the all relevant authority, a court could find that the dismissal of a county administrator of elections solely on the basis of political party affiliation constitutes a violation of that individual's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution ... ," Cooper wrote.

Cumberland County Attorney Jim Thompson said, "... It is my opinion a public employee cannot be dismissed from a job he or she is satisfactorily performing based solely on that employee's voting in a particular primary or for the sole reason of their political affiliation."

The Cumberland County Commission also passed a resolution stating it opposed changes in the election commission. Five elected officials also opposed any changes being made.

After the decision was made, Ed Lewis said the Republican Party was going on record stating that the Republican Party are "removing ourselves from this decision ... this is turning your backs on the Constitution of the United States and the state of Tennessee. It's a waste of time and unecessary. Why?"

Republican executive committee woman Ronda Rader of the 15th District attended the meeting as well.

"The person you nominated doesn't even exist in this county. You've nominated someone you don't even know the name of," Rader said to the commission.

After the meeting Karen Shanks, Republican party vice chairperson announced she will run against Eric Swafford in the 2010 election.

"It's time to clean house. I will represent you and be your voice — not the state party's voice," Shanks said.

York, who attended the meeting, left shortly after the appointment was made. Newly elected Republican Party Chairman Aaron Snodderly also left the meeting immediately.

Suzanne Smith addressed the group after the meeting and said she wanted to thank every one of her friends and members of the community for their support.

"I love all of you and I am speechless. I've always run a fair and honest office and there is no way for me to thank all of you," Smith said.

Smith would make no other comments other than to say she was considering her legal options.

Late Wednesday evening Smith cleared her personal belongings out the office she has been in for 30-plus years and hugged her former staff goodbye.

York took over as administrator of elections Thursday morning.