The Day Democracy Died

3,225 votes. That’s how many don’t count accordidemocracy tombstoneng to newly sworn in Alderman Melisa Brown. That’s how many do not count according to her logic in going along with Mayor Dennis Waldron to select Calvin Jones to fill the mayor’s vacated alderman seat.

The alderman and newly-elected Vice Mayor Sherry Green won their council seats on November 4, 2014, as did Mayor Waldron. Upon his swearing-in, the Mayor’s alderman seat became available. In only two weeks since the election, it was very clear by the people’s vote that Jason Cole should have rightfully been selected alderman as he came in third, followed by former Vice Mayor Chris Farmer. Calvin Jones came in fifth and David Driggers was last. But on November 18, 2014, democracy died in La Vergne.

Alderman Tom Broeker asked at the meeting if the election process and the will of the people were not important in selecting the new alderman because their nomination doesn’t just skip over the third highest vote getter, but also the fourth highest vote getter, as well. Alderman Brown explained she had thought about her vote for Calvin Jones, the second to last vote getter, a lot. She said that on Election Day, the voters did speak when they picked her and Vice Mayor Green to fill the alderman seats. She explained her rationale in that the voting public used their two votes to “pick us.” She went on to say, “That meant the majority of people did not get a chance to vote for a third choice. No one got a chance to vote for a third choice. But if they chose the person in the election that they wanted in, if they hadn’t voted for the two of us, then their votes would have counted for someone else as well and their votes need to be considered as well.”  (Seriously struggling to avoid the litany of blond jokes in my head right now!)

This explanation makes no sense whatsoever. None. Sweetheart with that logic, Calvin Jones should not have been selected either, but it should have gone to a special election. Clearly people did get a chance to vote for the third place finisher or how else would you have a third place finisher? The third choice was Jason Cole. The fourth choice was Chris Farmer. What this really is (it doesn’t “feel” like it, it just is) is that Alderman Brown and Mayor Waldron gave the finger to the 1,517 voters who cast in favor of Jason Cole and to the 1,282 voters who favored Chris Farmer.

As Alderman Broeker replied to Ms. Brown, “Quite frankly it does give the appearance of being political and handpicking. Right now we have become political rather than letting people voice their opinion.”

A quick side note, why did the Mayor not provide an explanation of his vote to the people. There were people outside City Hall with signs saying they supported Jason Cole. There were people at the workshop and at the citizen’s forum during the meeting saying they supported Jason Cole. There were two county commissioners present who said they should uphold the democratic process. Instead, democracy died on November 18 in La Vergne.

However, what they did was perfectly legal. It was not moral or ethical, but it was legal. Perhaps the citizens of La Vergne should petition the state to change that part of our charter – not do away with our charter like that idiotic effort of three years ago, but to change it so that the democratic process is upheld in the future.

Speaking of breaking laws, the sunshine law has been rabidly discussed lately.

What is the sunshine law? No two elected officials may discuss a vote together without it being at a meeting advertised and open to the public. Governance must be done in the light of day – or in the sunshine – to avoid any potential backroom deal-making, dishonesty, etc.

With what seemed to be a huge part of Calvin Jones’s family in attendance at the board meeting, the public perception is that they knew in advance that he was going to be selected as alderman. His sister told the Daily News Journal, “I’m so proud of him. He’s going to be one of the best aldermen in La Vergne.” She then said she traveled from Brownsville, Tennessee, to see the vote.

Calvin Jones ran on the platform of bringing ethics to City Hall.  If he held himself to the same high ethical standards that he has proclaimed he intends to hold city employees to, then we daresay that he would have done the right thing and rejected the vote in favor of the third highest vote getter. He could have tried again in two years and would have demolished all other candidates because he would have proven his integrity and that’s the kind of person we need to hold office. But he didn’t. We anticipate his election in two years could be challenging as a result.

However, the question remains, was the sunshine law violated? There’s no way to know that, but it does give the appearance of something planned in advance which would have been a violation of the sunshine law.

Then you go to the election of the Vice Mayor Sherry Green. A day or two after the election, she told someone at Logan’s that she and her daughter were celebrating the fact that Mayor Waldron told her she was going to be Vice Mayor. The news report that came out unfortunately stated that she and the mayor were having dinner together at Logan’s which was untrue. While we are disappointed that false information was reported, it does not change the fact that there was a direct violation made of the sunshine law.

Mrs. Green did make the announcement at the Senior Center that she was going to be the next Vice Mayor. In fact, the Senior Center congratulated Mrs. Green on its Facebook page!! The post was taken down, but not before people screen captured it and posted it on other social media pages.Senior Center screenshot We want to know why the media, the attorney general, and others are not investigating this violation.

Both Mayor Waldron and Vice Mayor Green have served the city for a combined 28 years so we ask them both to drop any pretense of “not knowing” and “oops”. You both know about the sunshine law. You both know you violated it.

What is the right thing to do? We ask Alderman Calvin Jones to step down from his “handpicked” seat and ask Mayor Waldron and Alderman Brown to change their votes to to the third highest vote-getter, Jason Cole. We ask Alderman Sherry Green to step down as Vice Mayor out of respect for the people who voted for her to show that she is not one to break the sunshine law.

This has been an incredibly disappointing start to the new administration. Democracy is dead. The sunshine law is dead. God save the queen.

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