Knox County voters will have one more thing to decide when they cast their ballot in November — should the law director be appointed or elected?
The referendum comes after public spats between Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs and Law Director Bud Armstrong since Jacobs was elected in 2018. The most public and costly clash came with the county pension lawsuit, which ended with the county spending over $1 million to sue itself.
Jacobs says allowing the county mayor to choose his or her own law director will streamline things.
“From the perspective of the Mayor’s Office, an appointed law director ensures more effective government without the worry of politics getting in the way,” Jacobs said in an emailed statement. “Ultimately, the decision rests with voters. Having made my opinion known, I have no intention of further pushing the matter one way or the other.”
For voters, though, it’s possible an appointed attorney could end up costing more. If approved, the county commission and school board would be allowed to hire their own lawyer in addition to the county’s law director.
Cost for the additional lawyers, however, would be minimal as the jobs would most likely be part-time positions.
If voters opt to stop electing a county law director, the appointed law director would, in theory, work to support the mayor and the mayor’s initiatives — just as the city’s law director, Charles Swanson, does for Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon.
It is not unusual for municipalities to have appointed law directors. If there were a disagreement in policy or legal opinion, the mayor could replace the lawyer.
The county’s Charter Review Committee agreed last week to let voters decide in November.
November’s result won’t affect the first four-year term of newly elected Law Director David Buuck, but it could determine if he is able to run for reelection.
“This amendment, if passed by the voters, goes into effect Sept. 21, 2024,” Armstrong said at last week’s meeting. “The law is there to protect the elected official … the only way you can remove an elected official is (through an ouster lawsuit).”
The review committee is a 27-member body of appointed residents, commissioners and county representatives that comes together every eight years to review the county’s governing documents and make suggested changes that go to the ballot to be decided by voters. The committee approved the ballot initiative on second reading last Wednesday.
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