Published: February 2, 2010
Rutherford County Elections Administrator Hooper Penuel will step down at the end of the year, according to a proposed settlement in a pending federal lawsuit.
Last summer, Administrator of Elections Hooper Penuel filed suit against the Republican members of the Rutherford County Elections Commission for allegedly breaking state and federal law by attempting to replace him with another political appointee.
The suit resulted in an injunction against the commission preventing them from appointing a new administrator.
“In general the outline of the agreement is Mr. Penuel will remain the administrator of eclections through the 2010 calendar year,” explained John Harris, attorney for the Rutherford County Election Commission.
Penuel will also be compensated an as-yet, undisclosed amount, Harris continued. Also, his employment status will be changed from “employee-at-will,” meaning there must be a breach of duty for him to be fired before the end of the year.
Election Commission Chairman Tom Walker said he wants to settle the lawsuit soon to save the taxpayers’ money.
“I want to settle this in the quickest and least costly way possible,” he said, adding the suit has cost around $30,000 so far in legal fees. “Every month we delay this, it has the opportunity to push that figure north.”
Last year, Penuel joined a federal suit filed behalf of seven county election administrators from across Tennessee who were fired last year since the Republicans took control of election commissions statewide.
Gary Blackburn, Penuel’s attorney, explained previously local election commissions may have violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, as well as the Tennessee Constitution by firing Democratically appointed administrators for Republican appointees.
Penuel was appointed in 2000, after having served as chairman of the Rutherford County Democratic Party. In 2008, he briefly considered a run for John Hood’s former state House of representatives seat, which was won by Joe Carr (R-Lascassas).
For the settlement to become official, the election commission must approve it. A vote is planned for Monday, Feb. 22. It must also pass the Rutherford County Budget and Finance Committee and County Commission before taking affect, because of the monetary compensation.
Michelle Willard can be contacted at 615-869-0816 or firstname.lastname@example.org.