Blount Republican Party, local voters at odds
By Matthew Stewart | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A group of Republican voters is displeased with the Blount County Republican Party’s recent election of officers, but the Tennessee Republican Party has cleared the local party of any wrongdoing.
Nearly 40 Republican voters submitted a notice of contest concerning the Blount County Republican Party’s reorganization meeting on Feb. 5. The group includes former state Sen. Raymond Finney, County Commissioner Jim Folts, Samuel David Duck, Harry Grathjahn, Joe King, Linda King and Tona Monroe.
The notice alleges that the Blount County Republican Party barred the group from its meeting and conducted its meeting contrary to Tennessee Republican Party rules. Group members alleged that the committee’s method of election didn’t comply with the state party’s rules as the committee elected its party officers.
The group contend the reorganization meeting should have been conducted through the precinct delegate process, meaning that precinct voters would elect party delegates who would then elect party officers at a county convention. Members based this opinion on state Republican Party rules, which specify that the method of election be applied if a county has more than 100,000 residents.
“I’m fed up with this behind-the-scenes, political mode of operation that’s destroying our country,” said Duck. “The Blount County Republican Party is operating behind closed doors.”
However, the Tennessee Republican Party doesn’t agree with Duck’s assessment.
State officials Tuesday denied the challenge, because the Blount County Republican Party had a waiver to conduct its convention using that method. The state Executive Subcommittee on Rules and Bylaws approved the one-time waiver last month.
Counties can apply for one-time and permanent waivers, said Deputy Executive Director Michael Sullivan. Many counties apply for waivers, which allows the local bodies to deviate from county or state Republican Party bylaws.
The Blount County Republican Party has been receiving one-time waivers since 2000, according to the local party’s leadership. The Tennessee Republican Party was unable to verify this information over a two-day period due to computer upgrades.
The state Republican Party’s rules and bylaws and local Republican Party’s bylaws don’t require that a county reorganization meeting be open to the public, according to Tuesday’s letter. Each local party has discretion whether the meeting is open to anyone who isn’t qualified to participate and vote.
The County Executive Committee doesn’t hold open meetings because members discuss sensitive material, including budgets, said County Commissioner Peggy Lambert. The local party’s other meetings are open to the public.
Any person can apply to be on the County Executive Committee, she said. Duck and other individuals who are contesting the Feb. 5 election didn’t submit their candidates at the proper time.
The group proposed their candidates on the day of the meeting, Lambert said. “They were very disruptive, especially Mr. Duck. They were trying to create some chaos, so we had to close our doors in order to continue our meeting.”
Duck contends that he was only asking about the local Republican Party’s method of election. “I wanted to see their bylaws, but they wouldn’t give them to me. I asked to see their waiver, and I pressed them until they produced it. They wouldn’t allow us to take a picture of it, though.”
Never had controversy
“We have a set of bylaws, and we’ve always followed them,” said Maryville attorney Jim Snyder, who is the Blount County Republican Party’s chairman. “We’ve never had any controversy. The people who are involved (in the notice of contest) do seek controversy. If I personally have a problem with the way that something is done, I approach it in a different manner. I would have addressed the body, and I wouldn’t have made a scene. They have a right to make whatever complaint they want to make, but we followed the rules. If we had failed to follow the rules, it’d be a cause for concern. If you do things according to your own bylaws, it seems appropriate.”
He also questioned why nonmembers would contest the election. “I’m honestly surprised that nonmembers would complain about who members select to lead their organization. We’re electing people for our organization’s offices.”
Committee members elected Snyder as chairman; Rob Goddard as male vice chairman; Patsy Lundy as female vice chairman; Jayne Gallegos as secretary; and Jeremiah Tener as treasurer.
No public notice
“The election was disappointing and unfortunate,” Folts said. “I’m a lifelong Republican, and I’d use those two words. At a time when the national party is trying to reach out and be more inclusive, it seems our local party is trying to do the opposite.”
He expressed numerous concerns, including the lack of public notice. “As near as we can tell, the time, place and attendees were secret. If that’s consistent with a spirit of fairness, I’m extremely displeased with the way that the party sees these events.”
“The damage has been already done,” Folts said. “They have excluded a large portion of the local party. We’re a cross-section of this party, and they need to find a way to get back to us. They need to find a way to be more inclusive.”
The necessary steps are “pretty elementary,” he said. “First of all, we want to be a part of those meetings. Secondly, they need to make their bylaws available to people and post them on their website. Government bodies put them on their websites. Why does the local Republican Party want to operate in the Dark Ages? Lastly, they need to post notices of all meetings on their website.”
The County Executive Committee is currently reviewing and updating the Blount County Republican Party’s bylaws, Lambert said. The body is reviewing numerous items, including the organization’s method of election.
Committee members didn’t feel it was appropriate to distribute the bylaws, which were “not updated or complete,” she said. If the county party’s bylaws were complete, they would have distributed them.
The Blount County Republican Party has historically provided bylaws on an individual basis, Lambert said. She said that the Steering Committee would be responsible for making any decision about posting the bylaws online.
Local party leaders will also try to bring this group back into the fold, she said. “I’d hope that we can mend the situation.”