Huntsville, TN (2015-12-22) A Scott County Chancery Court has ruled against former Town of Oneida Alderman Cecil Anderson who sued the Town of Oneida, the Scott County Election Commission and Alderman Bruce Mays seeking to have Mays’ election overturned and have him declared a winner in the November 7, 2015 Town of Oneida Municipal election.
Tuesday morning, Chancellor Elizabeth Asbury ruled that former Alderman Bruce Mays was ineligible to serve on the Oneida City Council due to a provision in state law which had been incorporated into the town’s municipal code that prohibited employees from running for elected office in the town; however, to Anderson’s detriment, she further opined that the vacancy created by his ineligibility should be filled by a majority vote of the Mayor and Board of Alderman, not by Anderson.
On November 16, 2015, Anderson filed a lawsuit against the Town of Oneida, the Scott County Election Commission and Alderman Bruce Mays seeking to have Mays’ election overturned. Anderson further sought to have the court declare him the fourth successful candidate in the race for alderman and seat him on the city council.
“We ran a fair, clean race,” Mays told Judge Asbury on Tuesday. “The town spoke and elected me and I think that’s what they wanted,” he added. Following the filing of the lawsuit, Mays reportedly learned of his ineligibility and tendered his resignation on December 9, 2015. “(Upon finding out about the ordinance), I wanted to do what was right—right by the town, right by the voters,” he commented.
On Tuesday, Anderson’s Knoxville attorney Brian Quist argued that Mays’ resignation didn’t change the fact that he was ineligible to run for the office. Quist contended that since Mays was ineligible to run, his oath of office and subsequent seating on the city council should be declared void. “If the oath was void, he didn’t take the office,” Quist argued. Mays was sworn in on November 14, 2015, one week after the election.
The judge’s decision on whether or not the vacancy was created prior to or after Mays taking office was at the crux of Anderson’s case. “(There is) no difference whether he was ineligible to serve or the resignation created the vacancy,” argued Knoxville-attorney Jon G. Roach, who represented the Town of Oneida. Since Mays resigned earlier in the month, Roach argued Anderson’s case was moot. Quist argued that since Mays never legally took office, then the court should declare his election null and void and select the next candidate. Anderson finished the race just nine votes behind Mays. “(There s) no statute that allows the court to move a candidate up,” countered Roach.
The Scott County Election Commission sought to have the case against it dismissed. Huntsville attorney John Beaty, who represented the Election Commission, asserted that the staff of the Election Commission had done nothing wrong. “(The Election Commission) has no duty to vet the qualifications of candidates who are governed by a (municipal) ordinance,” Beaty stated. Late in the hearing, Quist would acknowledge the Election Commission acted appropriately, but were a necessary party to the case. “They rely on candidates to sign the petition,” Quist remarked. As part of the qualifying process, candidates sign documentation that declares they are aware of the requirements for the office and they meet those eligibilities requirements.
After a 40 minute recess, Judge Asbury returned her decision. While she concurred that Mays was ineligible to serve as Alderman while in the employment of the town, she disagreed that Anderson should be declared the fourth alderman of the municipality based on his fifth place finish in the election.
Germane to Asbury’s decision was Anderson’s admission of having knowledge of Mays ineligibility prior to the election. During testimony in the case, Anderson admitted that he was aware of the existence of the ordinance, but failed to take any action prior to the election. “(I didn’t feel) it was my responsibility,” Anderson testified. Mays reportedly told Anderson of his intention to run prior to the election. “It’s not like we live 50 miles apart. We live right next to each other. He could’ve thrown the paper (referring to the ordinance) out the door and I would’ve caught it,” Mays told Judge Asbury.