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Unprecedented times: Mount Carmel has a new mayor, vice mayor and two new aldermen

Jeff Bobo • Jun 27, 2020 at 10:00 PM

MOUNT CARMEL — There’s a new mayor and a new vice mayor in Mount Carmel, and although they’re both running for mayor in the Nov. 3 election, on Thursday both called for an end to the divisiveness on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

The BMA voted unanimously to accept the resignations of Mayor Chris Jones and Alderman Carl Wolfe.

Following a lengthy discussion on conflicting legal opinions about replacing Jones, the BMA voted 4-1 to name Jennifer Williams the new mayor. Alderman Jim Gilliam cast the only no vote.

Williams is in her fourth year on the BMA, having served the past two years as vice mayor.

Two former aldermen appointed to BMA

The BMA also voted 3-2 to name second-year Alderman Pat Stilwell vice mayor. Initially Williams nominated Alderman Wanda Davidson, but Davidson declined, after which Williams nominated Stilwell.

Gilliam nominated Alderman Steven McLain to serve as vice mayor, which was defeated 2-3. Gilliam and McLain voted against Stilwell’s vice mayor nomination.

Both Stilwell and Williams have picked up petitions to run for mayor in the Nov. 3 election.

The BMA also appointed two aldermen to fill the vacancies on the board created by the resignations of Jones and Wolfe.

The nominees included three former aldermen: Garrett White, Paul Hale and Teresa Mauk, who were voted on in that order. White was approved 3-2 (Gilliam and McLain no); Hale was defeated 2-3 (Gilliam and McLain yes); and Mauk was approved 3-2 (Gilliam and McLain no).

Conflicting legal opinions from MTAS

Prior to the appointments, City Attorney John Pevy explained the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) had two different attorneys who offered conflicting interpretations of the law regarding how the mayoral seat should be filled. Pevy described the situation as unprecedented times for the town.

One MTAS legal advisor stated that the vice mayor doesn’t automatically become mayor in the event that the mayor is removed or resigns. Instead, the vice mayor performs the functions of mayor until the next election.

The law states that, in event of a vacancy or inability of the mayor to serve, “the vice mayor will serve.”

“One school of thought is that the person performs the mayor’s duties until the next election,” Pevy told the board. “The other school of thought — and this is how I understood it until this point when we finally had to deal with this situation — is that the vice mayor becomes mayor upon the resignation of the mayor or any inability to continue functioning as mayor.”

“The vice president becomes the president”

Under that first school of thought, Williams would technically remain vice mayor, and there would be only one vacancy on the board to fill, with the mayor’s seat remaining vacant until after the Nov. 3 election. 

Pevy noted that there is no case law or attorney general’s opinion on the matter, and his advice was for the BMA to consider both interpretations of the law and decide which one to follow.

“That way I’ve not told you to do it one way, and in a week the state decides that it should be done another way,” Pevy said.

Pevy added, “If you look at vice president, the vice president becomes the president. The term ‘vice’, when applied to public office, as I’ve always understood it, was to avoid vacancies in office in the event that the chief or chairman was no longer able to serve.”

It was following Pevy’s presentation that Williams made a motion that she become mayor.

“I hope we can move forward”

“I hope we can move forward,” Williams said at the end of Thursday’s meeting. “We’ve got a great community. Great employees. We’ve got a good city manager, so I think we can move forward and do the right thing for the town of Mount Carmel.”

Williams also stated she will be at City Hall on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m., and the public is invited to meet with her and speak with her at that time.

Prior to the appointments, Stilwell also called on the board to work together and put an end to divisiveness.

“We’ve got to move on,” Stilwell said. “We’ve got to work together, this group right here plus two more who will be put in tonight. We have got people on this side (gesturing), and people on this side. It’s not worked in the past and it’s not working now, so we need to get together and come and meet in the middle. We need to work for the people of Mount Carmel … and we have got to stop this nit-picking on both sides of the aisle.”

The resignations of Jones and Wolfe occurred as a result of a petition to oust them filed by Pevy in Hawkins County Circuit Court earlier this month after they allegedly attempted to evict Jones’ girlfriend from a house he rents from Wolfe by using a bogus eviction notice and illegal use of a city seal.

Click here for a story explaining the bogus eviction situation in greater detail.

Click here to read about other criminal allegations that Jones currently faces

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