The case filed by Ron Young against Clinton city councilman E.T. Stamey was dismissed on Friday by Anderson County Chancellor Nikki Cantrell.
“I’m apologetic that this whole thing has even happened,” Stamey said to The Courier News after the hearing. “It’s cost the taxpayers a lot of money.”
Young ran against Stamey in the 2018 election. Following Stamey’s win, Young filed a lawsuit against Stamey and the Anderson County Election Commission, alleging that Stamey was not eligible to run for council because he was a Clinton City Schools employee. Stamey is the athletic director of the Clinton Elementary Schools System. According to the city’s charter, a city employee cannot also be a city council member.
Young’s lawsuit alleged that a school employee was also a city employee.
Young alleged that Stamey “is disqualified from holding office on the city council because of his employment with the public school system of the town.”
Young further alleged that because Stamey was not qualified to run for office, “the only qualified candidate on the ballot for that office in the general election should be declared the duly elected winner.”
In 2008, a Clinton City Schools teacher wanted to run for office. The city requested an opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General on whether the city charter prohibited that. Then-Attorney General Robert Cooper wrote that the Tennessee Code “disqualifies municipal employees from eligibility to serve on the municipality’s legislative body unless otherwise authorized by law or local ordinance. The charter and ordinances of the City of Clinton do not authorize such eligibility.”
When Cantrell explained her decision, she stated that the Attorney General’s opinion was just that — an opinion. It did not take into account Tennessee Code Title 49, which says that a school system is distinct from city council and that city council exercises no control over the school system.
The school system has its own board, and that board manages and controls all public schools established in that jurisdiction.
She ruled that while there is a monetary connection, meaning city council does vote on a school system’s budget, the school system is separate from county governments.
“The city holds the purse strings, but the schools control the management,” she said.
Stamey was hired by Clinton City Schools in 2017 and said that it wasn’t something that was done without a lot of forethought.
“[Director of Schools] Kelly Johnson went to [Clinton City Manager] Roger Houck and said she was thinking about hiring me, and asked if it was even legal,” he said. “They asked MTAS and they said yes, and they gave me a blurb to read if I ever voted on a school matter.”
MTAS is the legal council for local governments.
“This wasn’t a quick decision” he added. “The forethought was there by the director of schools and the city manager. We were confident from the get go.”