It seemed at first to be a rather innocuous story on “Three vie for Hamilton County Court Clerk post” in the Chattanooga Times Free Press earlier this week but, as I read what staff writer Louie Brogdon wrote, I found myself wondering if “common sense” always takes a holiday around April Fool’s Day. I bring this up because early voting begins a week from Monday and, in my opinion, here is a contest that ought to be a one-horse race.
The clear favorite is Larry Henry, a three-term county commissioner who for the last five years has served admirably as the chairman of the group. Yet the other two, veteran Sheriff's Department employee Ron Parson and attorney Lisa Bowman, are clearly embarrassing themselves by running for public office because by the time this year’s election is over it’s an odds-on bet both will be red-faced.
Parson, who was demoted in 2011 after he allegedly cheated on a required exam and then demoted again last year after harassment charges were brought by a number of employees, is darn lucky to still be employed by the Hamilton County Sheriff’s office. Meanwhile, attorney Bowman is reportedly having to cope with a $281,000 lien on her home after she failed to pay income taxes from 2006 to 2011.
While I believe anyone who so desires should be able to run for public office, it seems to me the local Republican party – under whose banner all three are appearing – should have some sort of vetting process. The job running the County Court Clerk’s office is anything but a joke yet, as I read Brogdon’s story, the slate quickly began to resemble a soap opera. Please, shouldn’t we do better than this?
In candor, I know neither Parson nor Bowman. I have known Henry for a number of years and find him to be a diligent public servant. Parson, who moved up through the ranks of the sheriff’s office, came within a hare’s breath of losing his job in 2011 when Corrections Officer Ryan Epperson told internal affairs officers he had used Parson’s computer to write a research paper.
Parson denied the charges but he and Epperson were suspended and there was a national outcry from police accountability experts. One said, “He cheated. Period. He should flunk the course. If he flunks the course, then he shouldn’t be certified. He hasn’t, in fact, done the work to be certified.”
Somehow Parson dodged the aftermath of finger-pointing and accusations but last year when the harassment charges were levelled, he attempted to blame the sheriff, alleging he was told to challenge some employees about their weight. There were “about 20 employees” who charged the non-unpopular Parson with harassment and the former chief deputy was soon relegated to serving as head of courthouse security.
That Parson would now aspire to head the County Court Clerk’s office, with over 40 employees, is a bit unnerving to those who grasp local politics and just why no one from the Republican Party told him not to waste his money is unfortunate. Then again, the job reportedly pays $103,795 which is considerably more than he is paid by the sheriff’s office.
Lisa Bowman is also a character. Her signs proclaim her name is Lisa Zarzour Bowman but the federal lien on her house at 1522 Hotwater Road in Soddy-Daisy identify her as Lisa Espy Bowman. No matter – she acknowledged in the newspaper she is one and the same. The property is said to be valued at $221,900 – some $60,000 less than the liens.
She explained her problems to the newspaper: “The tax liens were a result of an audit that is still ongoing, where basically I was relying on someone else to handle my books. But I take full responsibility to the taxes, and I am making monthly payments to correct it,” she said, adding that she did not want to accuse anyone of wrongdoing “and just said she was paying the debt.”
When was the last time a lawyer anywhere in the world didn’t want to accuse anyone and instead took on over a quarter-million in debt? While I wish Lisa Bowman the best, she is particularly ill-suited as a Circuit Court Clerk and when she claims her law degree would be invaluable in office, it is a known fact the clerk can make no legal decisions. Please, she should never have run for public office and, like Ron Parson, she knows it better than the rest of us.
In the early days it appeared Henry would run against the school board’s Mike Evatt, which would have pitted two good men for the job, but Evatt got a promising job in the business sector and stepped aside. So now you see why this year’s election is a one horse race and while Larry Henry will win. Why on earth didn’t some friends dissuade our two pretenders?