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Marie Mott Asks Election Commission Not To Certify Results Of Runoff Election; City Attorney Says Mayor Had The Right To Endorse

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Marie Mott, who lost the City Council District 8 runoff election last Thursday by 70 votes, has filed a challenge with the election office.

She is asking that the Election Commission not certify the election at its meeting on Wednesday morning.

The top votegetter, interim Councilwoman Marvene Noel, was sworn into office for the upcoming term at Tuesday night's City Council meeting. City Judge Sherry Paty administered the oath.

Ms. Mott cited support for her opponent from certain city officials as being in violation of the state's Little Hatch Act.

Mayor Tim Kelly was among city officials endorsing Ms. Noel.

Election officials who received the complaint from Ms. Mott advised her that she needed to file it in Chancery Court.

Malarie Marsh, who finished third in the August primary and who later endorsed Ms. Mott for the runoff, also filed a complaint with the election office.

She said while she was working as a volunteer for the Mott campaign on Thursday "I had to show several people at Avondale and Carver Center where to go vote because they was being turned around and told they couldn't vote because they was in District 9.  I looked at voters cards. They lived in District 8 and should have been allowed to vote."

Ms. Mott said city employees from the mayor's office - Ronald Elliot and Chris Anderson - "have both supported Marvene Noel by campaigning for her during community meetings and neighborhood association meetings, and Chris Anderson specifically on Election Day. This violates TN Code 2-19-202."

She said Ms. Noel had "failed to disclose campaign financials since the beginning of her campaign. This violates ethics and transparency to voters and the greater public, shrouding a kee eye on financial supporters and expenditures."

Ms. Mott said City Council members Raquetta Dotley, Demetrus Coonrod, Jenny Hill, Ken Smith and Isiah Hester "all publicly endorsed Marvene Noel alongside Mayor Tim Kelly and specifically participated in various publications against me as a candidate violating TN Code 2-19-202. Jenny Hill, Tim Kelly and Raquetta Dotley also appear on campaign fliers endorsing Marvene Noel violating 2-19-207."

She said Mayor Kelly, "officially, in his capacity as the mayor while on city property and time, endorsed my opponent Marvene Noel. This constitutes a violation of TN Code 2-19-202, 2-19-101 Section (1) and 2-19-122 by stating in his endorsement his support was based on her agreement of his policy measures outlined in his 'One Chattanooga' plan." 

 Emily O'Donnell, Chattanooga city attorney, said, "Mayor Kelly properly and routinely exercised his rights provided by federal law to express his opinions on political issues and candidates. As with many other elected officials who have endorsed political candidates, no part of Mayor Kelly’s endorsement violated state or federal law, including the Little Hatch Act or the federal Hatch Act."

Joda Thongnopnua, chief of staff to Mayor Kelly, said, "Elected officials, by dint of their positions, are expected to use their roles for political advocacy - including during election season. That’s part of their job. The idea that elected officials can’t weigh into elections is not only odd, it’s contrary to American political norms.

"A cursory google for "Mayor endorses" turns up numerous examples of this all across the country, if one wanted to confirm this themselves. Here's just one example from St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones for an open Board of Aldermen seat just last month: https://fox2now.com/news/missouri/st-louis-mayor-endorses-candidate-for-board-of-aldermen-president/ "

Here is the section of state law cited:

2010 Tennessee Code
Title 2 - Elections
Chapter 19 - Prohibited Practices
Part 2 - Offenses by Public Officers and Employees (?Little Hatch Act?)
2-19-202 - Interference with election or nomination.

2-19-202. Interference with election or nomination.

 

(a)  It is unlawful for any public officer or employee to use such person's official position, authority or influence to interfere with an election or nomination for office or directly or indirectly attempt to intimidate, coerce or command any other officer or employee to vote for or against any measure, party or person, or knowingly receive or pay assessments of any kind or character for political purposes or for election expenses from any other officer or employee.

(b)  It is the intent of this section to prohibit any political intimidation or coercion of any public officer or employee.

 

[Acts 1972, ch. 740, § 1; T.C.A., § 2-1937.]  


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