Election board files for dismissal

Attorney claims group fighting liquor by the drink has no legal standing
Dec. 04, 2012 @ 03:22 PM

The Sevier County Election Commission is looking to get Chancellor Telford Forgety to toss the contest of election on the Pigeon Forge liquor by the drink referendum, claiming the Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge organization doesn’t have the legal standing to file the suit.

The election commission certified the referendum from the Nov. 6 election, showing voters approved the sale of liquor at Pigeon Forge restaurants by a total of 1,232 to 1,132. However, questions immediately arose after the election, as some voters from inside the city said they were denied the chance to vote and voters from outside the city said the measure appeared on their ballots.

Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge, the organization formed to campaign against the referendum when it was first placed on a ballot several years ago, filed the contest of election. In the complaint, attorney Lewis Howard Jr. says the group “is a single issue campaign committee which has charge of a campaign for the rejection of the referendum to approve liquor by the drink in the city of Pigeon Forge.”

Attorney Dennis Francis, representing the election commission, argues the group lacks the legal standing to file the complaint. “The plaintiff does not allege the actions if any, that plaintiff took to oppose the Pigeon Forge referendum; nor are there any allegations in the complaint that the plaintiff took ‘charge’ of the campaign opposing the referendum,” he said in the motion.

The complaint doesn’t say whether the members of the committee are eligible to vote in the referendum, or that they voted in the referendum, he said. He cites a previous case in Tennessee where a committee filed a contest of election, but it was tossed when they could not show they had advertised or campaigned against a resolution. “The (Pigeon Forge) complaint is bare of any allegation that the plaintiff took any action to oppose the Pigeon Forge referendum,” Francis said.

While not noted in the original complaint, the Concerned Churches and Citizens placed ads in The Mountain Press opposing the measure.

Francis also questions whether the committee and its members demonstrate they have a special interest or injury in the case.

He has filed a set of questions for the organization looking for information about the committee, its members and whether they voted in the election.

Francis also filed a motion asking Forgety to prevent the organization from amending the complaint, saying the five-day window for filing contests of election in Tennessee also applies to amendments to the complaint.

At the November meeting where the vote was certified, a man who identified himself as a member of Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge told the election commission he had found evidence that more than 300 votes came from voters who election officials could not confirm live or own property within the city. Charles Rhodes does not live in Pigeon Forge, but works for a business inside the city. He said he investigated the allegations in part because he learned someone had used the address of the business where he works to vote in the election.

State and local officials said the allegations couldn’t block certification of the ballot, but that opponents could file a challenge of election on those grounds. The group did so within a few days, using points made by Rhodes at the meeting.

Election officials have said the election was complicated in part because Pigeon Forge allows property owners to vote in city elections, and also because the referendum was the only municipal election on a general election ballot; the Pigeon Forge polling place was also used by some voters from outside the city during the state and national election.

They have said they are reviewing the 303 votes questioned by Rhodes, and have accounted for some they say actually came from people with the right to vote on the referendum.

Court officials said Monday that Forgety has not yet set a date to hear the case. Under state law, the case must be heard within 50 days after it was served on the election commission.