Thanks, but no thanks.
That’s the response fledgling politician Elizabeth Baker, a candidate for the District 2 county commission seat, is considering giving to two organizations that have invited her to take part in candidate forums during July.
The problem? Both forums would be moderated by – and apparently organized by – Signal Mountain Mayor Chris Howley, a longtime supporter of her opponent.
Last September, Mayor Howley and his wife were among the hosts of a reception for District 2 candidate Chip Baker – who is running against Mrs.
Baker – held at the Signal Mountain Golf and Country Club. According to Mr. Baker’s online records, the couple also has contributed $250 to his campaign.
“Chip (Baker) has been a consummate public servant always giving of his time, talent and treasure,” Mr. Howley wrote on his blog, Friends of Chris Howley. “His experience will serve us all well with him representing us on the Hamilton County Commission. Thank you for being willing to serve Chip. I am proud to call you my friend.”
Mrs. Baker, who is cutting her political teeth with a vigorous campaign for the county commission seat, said she has already agreed to participate in a candidate forum scheduled for 6-8 p.m. on July 12 which will be held at the Hub in the Red Bank High School library. The moderator for that event will be Shawn Trivette, assistant professor of sociology at UTC.
Wednesday afternoon, she penned letters to both Alexian and the Signal Mountain Golf and Country Club, saying she would like to participate in their upcoming forums.
However, she noted, “I consider it reasonable to ask that the moderator be a person who does not have a stake in the outcome of the election. Anyone connected with my (campaign) or Chip Baker’s campaign should not qualify as an impartial moderator. I am sure a disinterested moderator could be found among the media at UTC or Chattanooga State, or among those in the news media.
“I would appreciate hearing from you about this matter at your earliest possible convenience so I can arrange my calendar accordingly,” she added.
Explaining her response, Mrs. Baker said she welcomes “any opportunity to engage with citizens.”
However, she added, she believes such events should be impartial.
To announce the two forums he wants to moderate, Mayor Howley sent copies of the invitations to former Mayor Paul Hendricks, moderator of the blog League of Signal Mountain Voters.
The resulting announcement on the blog has drawn numerous comments, particularly after Mayor Howley’s history of financial and political support for Chip Baker’s campaign was noted.
Originally Mr. Howley wanted to hold at least three such forums, Mr. Hendricks told blog readers.
“He asked the Lions Club to sponsor a forum with him moderating, but we declined . . . I think that Chip Baker and Elizabeth Boyer Baker should both request that Chris recuse himself from these forums,” Mr. Hendricks noted.
“So let me just get this right,” Wendi Morgan wrote. “Mr. Howley HAS given Chip Baker a contribution, he has ENDORSED him on his facebook page AND he hosted a reception for him?”
“I hope Elizabeth doesn’t touch that forum with a 10-foot pole,” Kim Brown Fookes commented.
According to the invitations Mrs. Baker received from Mayor Howley, which were worded identically, he is planning to moderate:
- A forum at Alexian on Tuesday, July 10, from 7-8:30 p.m.
- A second forum at week later, from 7-8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 17, at the Signal Mountain Golf and Country Club – the site of the reception for Chip Baker which Howley helped host.
Letters to Mrs. Baker accompanying the invitations to the two events -- although emailed to her by Mayor Howley -- were signed by Alexian executive director Terry Thompkins and SMGCC board of director’s president Jeff Caplenor, respectively.
Rather than asking her to respond to either Mr. Thompkins or Mr. Caplenor, however, the letters instructed Mrs. Baker to “Please respond to Chris Howley by email or phone . . . by June 17 of your intention to participate.”
The proposed forums would share the same format. First, the three candidates for Signal’s town judge each would be given five minutes to introduce themselves and outline their platforms.
Following that, starting at 7:30 p.m., a question and answer session would be held for the two county commission candidates.