Sims Is Out

With a unanimous vote of the Loudon County Election Commission, the roster of candidates for the November Lenoir City election was accepted. The list did not include mayoral candidate Joe Sims. Sims will not be on the ballot.

The meeting of the board began with a conference call with Beth Henry-Robinson, deputy director of elections in Nashville. Ms. Robinson was called to explain the states position on the qualifications or lack there of for Joe Sims to run for office. Robinson explained that in 2007 a new law took effect that required additional steps for anyone who had been convicted of an infamous crime would have to complete to be permitted to run for office.  According to her, Sims had met all the requirements that were required in 1998 when he ran for city council. But with the addition of the new 2007 law, Sims would not be qualified to run this time.

The Nashville office's story has changed since the question of Sims qualification was first raised last week. Originally,  Nashville's position was that they had made a mistake back in 1998 and they would not compound problem by making the same mistake twice. Then beginning Tuesday, Nashville officials came up with the new story of the change in the law. Regardless the results were the same, Sims was disqualified. One note of interest came up when Pat Hunter asked Ms. Robinson where they, state officials, received the information that brought Sims qualifications into question. Robinson stated that the information was brought to their office anonymously. Hunter further asked Robinson had the information not been brought to their office, would Sims still be on the ballot to which Robinson essentially said yes.

With concern about how their decision would be perceived by the public, board members wanted to know how the whole matter came up. According to Loudon County Election coordinator, Dana Zehner, the first thing that happened was some time ago, Lenoir City Councilman, Tony Aikens came to her office and asked to see a copy of Joe Sims restoration. Zehner showed Aikens the document. Aikens asked for a copy of it, paid for it and left. The next thing she heard of it was when mayoral candidate Robert "Tooter" Robinett showed up ten minutes before the deadline to qualify, threw some papers on the table and told her, "you can't let him (JOE) run." It was not till after she called Nashville that she found out that documents had also been delivered to Nashville days earlier. 


Contrary to statements by Dana Zehner, and according to Lenoir City Councilman Tony Aikens, he never went to the election commission office and asked for a copy of Joe Sims restoration documents nor did he ask for or pay for a copy of the document. Aikens stated that several months ago he was asked by a city voter how it was possible that Sims, a convicted felon, could run for office. Aikens phoned the election commission office at which time Zehner told him that Sims had been restored.

Aikens has asked for a letter of correction from Loudon County coordinator of elections, Dana Zehner, stating that he did not ask for or receive a copy of Sims restoration documents.

It was very obvious that the Loudon County Election commissioners were very unhappy with the direction of events but felt they had no option but to follow the direction of Nashville. One commissioner even stated "this stinks". But as board member J. C. Almond stated, we have no option but to follow the law as defined by the Nashville office. Sims addressed the board and thanked them for their support and expressed his appreciation for the work they had done. All board members expressed sorrow and disappointment at the outcome.  

With the elimination of Sims from the mayor's ballot, there will now be only three candidates, Matt Brookshire, Tooter Robinett and Gary Aikens.

Loudon panel bars ex-sheriff from mayor race

By Hugh G. Willett,

LOUDON - The Loudon County Election Commission voted unanimously Thursday night to disallow the candidacy of a former sheriff in November's Lenoir City mayoral race.

The commission ruled that former Loudon County Sheriff Joe Sims, who was convicted of a felony gambling charge in 1996, must first petition a court to have his rights restored before running for public office.

The decision effectively removes Sims from the race. He had been considered a strong candidate against incumbent Mayor Matt Brookshire and challenger Robert "Tooter" Robinette.

Before deliberating, the election commission heard an opinion from Beth Henry-Robertson, deputy coordinator of elections at the State Election Commission in Nashville, who participated in the meeting by teleconference.

According to Henry-Robertson, Sims cannot participate in the upcoming mayoral election, even though he was cleared by the state commission to run for Lenoir City council in 1999, because of a 2007 change in the wording of the election laws.

Sims was cleared to run in 1999 because the law at that time stated that anyone convicted of a felony and sentenced to the state penitentiary could not run for public office unless their rights were restored by a court order.

Because Sims was not sentenced to the penitentiary for his 1996 conviction, he was technically eligible to run for any office except sheriff or constable in 1999, Henry-Robertson said.

In 2007, the Legislature changed the law to read that anyone convicted of a felony was not eligible to run for public office unless they had their rights fully restored by a court order.

"We have to judge the qualifications under the present law. There is no grandfather clause," she said.

Sims said he does not understand why he was not notified of the change in the law, and he questioned the timing of the commission's ruling, which makes it impossible to seek a court order restoring his rights in time for the election.

"I filed my papers on time, then, at the last minute, someone delivered papers to the election commission to disqualify me," Sims said.

Henry-Robertson said the paperwork detailing Sims conviction and the changes in the law were delivered anonymously to her office in the past few weeks.

Loudon County Election Commissioner Dana Zehner confirmed that mayoral candidate Robinette delivered to her a similar package of information about Sims the day before the election filing deadline.

Robinette said he felt it was his responsibility to bring the information to the attention of the election commission.

"I don't think he (Sims) was trying to do anything wrong. I think he was misled about his eligibility," Robinette said.

Among some members of the election commission, there was obvious support for Sims.

"This was an old wound. I thought it was over with," said Commissioner Kay Brooks.

After the ruling, Sims thanked panel members for their time and apologized for any inconvenience he might have created. He said he has no plans at this time to seek a court order restoring his rights.

Sims won’t be on ballot

Author: Mary E. Hinds
Source: News-Herald

The Loudon County Election Commission voted unanimously Thursday night to exclude former Loudon County Sheriff Joe Sims from the ballot for the November election. Sims was seeking a term as the mayor of Lenoir City.

Loudon County Election Administrator Dana Zehner opened the meeting by consulting via a teleconference line with Beth Henry-Robertson, deputy coordinator of elections at the State Election Commission to get an expert opinion. Henry-Robertson said Sims was not eligible to run in the upcoming mayoral election, even though he was cleared to run for Lenoir City Council in 1999 because the law at that time read that a person convicted of a felony and sent to the penitentiary could not run for public office unless his or her rights were restored by a court order. Since Sims was convicted of one count of felony gambling in 1996 but was sentenced to rehabilitation, not the penitentiary, he technically could run in 1999. In 2007 the state legislature changed the law to read that anyone convicted of a felony, regardless of their sentence, could not have their rights restored unless by court order. 

Sims, who attended the meeting, joined in the teleconference to ask Henry-Robertson why no one, including the election commission, had been informed about the change. “I was not notified,” Sims said. “The local election commission didn’t know about this law either.” She replied that the state election commission was not charged with notifying candidates. “The candidates must educate themselves on the qualification of that office,” Henry-Robertson said.

Newly elected school board member Van Shaver, a former county commissioner, asked Henry-Robertson if that law was not retroactively punishing Sims for a crime committed before the new version of the law was passed. She said that was not the case — since Sims was trying to qualify in 2008 he was bound by the law in force now and he can only qualify if his rights are restored by a court order.

At that point Sims said he saw no reason to beat a dead horse, but he did express dissatisfaction with the decision coming so close to the election, leaving him no time to pursue a restoration of his rights in time to be on the ballot. “I wish you had done it earlier,” he said and then he thanked Henry-Robertson and the commission for their time and consideration.

Earlier Henry-Robertson said the matter was brought to her attention when someone left papers detailing the situation at the election commission office in Nashville. She said she didn’t know who left the documents, they were merely dropped off and no name was attached. Local activist Pat Hunter asked her if the papers had not been delivered to her office would Sims have been disqualified. Henry-Robertson said she could only speculate about that, adding the state election commission could not keep track of every candidate on the ballot in every county across the state.
Zehner said while the identity of the person who delivered the papers to Nashville was a mystery, the person who delivered them to the Loudon County Election Commission was not. She said Robert “Tooter” Robinett, a candidate for Lenoir City Mayor, brought the matter to her attention minutes before the deadline to qualify for the November Lenoir City election.

With Sims out of the running in the mayor’s race, that leaves incumbent Matt Brookshire, Gary L. Aikens and Robinett on the ballot. The commission also certified the candidacies of Tony Aikens, James Brandon, Bobby G. Johnson Sr., Michel Long, Donald Pace, Eddie Simpson, Jon Waliga and Curtis Williams Jr. for Lenoir City Council seats. Rick Chadwick, Mitch Ledbetter, Glenn McNish and Steve Shoemaker were qualified to run for the Lenoir City School Board. Bobby Johnson Jr. was the only candidate qualified to run for the Lenoir City Recorder/Treasurer position and incumbent Tom Peeler was the only candidate running to be the mayor of Greenback.

No one has thrown their hat into the ring to be the mayor of Philadelphia. Zehner said according to state election officials, unless there is a write-in candidate who takes the job, the only alternative was to dissolve that city government.