Blount Co. commissioner alleges election law violations

Blount County Commissioner Jim Folts has asked the local District Attorney General's Office to investigate possible election law and criminal violations that he says a number of top county officials potentially committed when they held a series of meetings in April and May to discuss public business.

Specifically, Folts says County Mayor Ed Mitchell, Finance Director Randy Vineyard, Commissioner Ron French and Director of Schools Rob Britt violated six state statutes, most of them tied to attempting to influence the way county employees vote.

He also says the officials used public buildings to host the meetings to promote a political agenda without providing equal opportunity to "all sides," a move that also would violate state election laws.

Folts, in a complaint he filed with the Blount County Election Commission and the Blount County District Attorney General's Office, said the meetings were supposedly designed to "educate school personnel on the sales tax vote" that appeared on the May 6 ballot and was eventually approved by voters.

But, in his June 19 complaint, he said: "(The) subject matter ranged far beyond the sales tax and got into matters such as the property tax rates, the county debt, and other hot political issues. Statements were made saying that certain Commission candidates were wrong on their statement of the county's total liabilities and other important matters. Of course those candidates were not invited, and could not defend their statements."

Folts, who was not invited to the meetings, asked Blount County Administrator of Elections Libby Breeding and Blount County District Attorney General Mike Flynn to investigate the matter.

So far, his request hasn't garnered much traction.

Breeding, in an email to Folts, said state officials told her to turn the matter over to Flynn.

Flynn then told Folts that if "there is proof that criminal statutes have been violated, these violations need to be reported to the law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction."

Further, county attorney Craig Garrett, in a memo to Mayor Mitchell, said no one broke the law.

"Director Britt clearly stated these voluntary meetings were conducted before and after school hours to simply educate the faculty and staff on the sales tax referendum," he wrote. "The evidence provided by Folts does not suggest even a hint of coercion, threats, intimidation, promises or other conduct covered by the law he references."

Folts, who is not seeking re-election, told WBIR 10News on Friday that he shouldn't have to prove that that someone violated the law. He said the attorney general should conduct the investigation.

"I don't think the burden should be on me," he said.

Folts added that last Wednesday he asked prosecutors to "go back and read the law and listen to the (audio recording of a May 8 committee meeting that he provided), and certainly there's enough information to initiate an investigation."

So far, he said, he hasn't heard back.


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