A leader of the effort says “many reasons” contributed to a desire for change — but Bob Thomas’ recent resignation from the mayor’s seat “was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Three petitions seeking removal of Aldermen J.C. Gentry, Todd Malone and Don Weaver were submitted to the Sullivan County Election Commission, Administrator of Elections Gena Frye said Wednesday.
To be considered valid, such petitions must be checked by election officials for proper wording before being circulated for signatures. In this case, changes were needed, Frye said.
The Election Commission is scheduled to next meet on March 4, Frye said, and reformatted versions of the petitions are expected to come up for commission review.
L.G. Leonard, a former Bluff City BMA member, said he and others believe Thomas resigned because of “hostile” aldermen.
“He considers his health more valuable than wondering when he’s going to be stabbed in the back,” Leonard said. “It was very sad. He’s a fine man. A moral, Christian man. I’ve known him all my life. They campaigned on getting him off the board ... and they’re fulfilling their campaign promises. The city is going back. It’s not moving forward at all. It’s a beautiful little town. We are upset. That’s the straw that broke the camel’s back that they finally drove him out of office. That’s the major factor in us deciding to go forward with this.”
Frye described the following process if the effort moves forward:
•If properly worded petitions are presented to and certified by the Election Commission, proponents will then have 75 days to collect enough signatures to cause a recall.
•A separate recall petition is required for each office — in other words, proponents must circulate a particular petition for each alderman they wish to put to a recall vote.
•The number of valid signatures required from registered Bluff City voters to make a recall happen is about 129. The figure is set out in the city’s charter at 15 percent of all registered voters in the city.
•If enough valid signatures are collected and submitted to the Election Commission — for one or more of the aldermen in question — a date for the ballot will be set. In this case it would likely be August, but could be November.
•Aldermen named for recall would continue to serve until voters go to the polls, whichever date is chosen.
•Under Bluff City’s charter, a recall vote is a simple yes or no matter. On election day, voters would either vote for or against the recall, for each elected official listed on the recall ballot.
•If a majority of voters vote for recall, the elected officials in question vacate office. Remaining members of the BMA would then appoint replacements to fill out their terms.
The process is different than the most recent recall effort in Sullivan County, when several members of the Bristol Tennessee City Council faced recall in 2002. Under Bristol’s city charter, a required number of valid signatures basically launched a special election for the seats in question — when voters went to the polls, they voted for council candidates, which in some cases included the incumbents.