Local ballot lacks races but not controversy

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  The election ballot put to Carter County voters on Thursday may lack races, but not controversy.
  Jerome Cochran and John Holsclaw took the gloves off weeks ago in their quest to win the Republican nomination for the 4th District seat to the state House of Representatives.
  Incumbent Cochran won his first term two years ago after upsetting Ralph Cole in the GOP primary in August 2002 and taking the state election in November. Holsclaw was a fixture at the Carter County Courthouse for 27 years, winning seven terms as the county's assessor of property.
  In his campaign advertising, Holsclaw has asserted his commitment to be a "full-time" representative. He has also criticized Cochran over not pushing for completion of road projects in the county such as the Gap Creek Road expansion and the Northern Connector. He also implied that Carter County government's dilemma of building new jail facilities could have been helped had Cochran sought state and federal grant money.
  However, two departments overseeing the state's correctional system and public safety said last week no state grants to fund improvements for a municipal jail were available through them.
  "We don't offer grants to finance (jails) that want to expand," said Jennifer Johnson, public affairs officer with the Tennessee Department of Corrections in Nashville. "Most of the criminal justice (related grants) gets handed down from the federal level."
  While the department oversees state-run correctional facilities, TDOC has no regulatory oversight of municipal jails. A spokesperson with the Tennessee Department of Safety also said that their department did not disseminate grants to build jail facilities.
  Cochran meantime has accused Holsclaw of supporting Cole in his write-in campaign mounted shortly before the 2002 state election after Cochran won the primary. Cochran has also alluded that Holsclaw supported a candidate he says endorsed a tax on personal income. Holsclaw has said publicly he opposes a state income tax.
  Cochran has received endorsements from the National Rifle Association, and the anti-abortion group Tennessee Right to Life, while Holsclaw has picked up endorsements from the Tennessee Education Association and Tennessee State Employees Association.
  A county election race for the Carter County Board of Education's 1st Educational District seat is generating major heat in the Stoney Creek community. The race pits Dale Colbaugh against Wayne Pierce to replace the district's sitting school board member, Ernest "Gebe" Ritchie, who is not seeking another term.
  Pierce was named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by Ritchie's wife in November 2001 for allegations of sexual harassment.
  Lynice Ritchie worked as a county school system employee in the maintenance department when Pierce became employed by the department, according to case documents filed in U.S. District Court in Greeneville. She sued the Carter County school system, Carter County government and Pierce for $7 million alleging sexual harassment by Pierce. She also claimed the school administration did not take action when she reported the alleged harassment.
  In its answer to Ritchie's complaint, the school system denied Ritchie's allegations pertaining to Pierce and the school administration's actions toward her.
  Ernest Ritchie, a sitting member of the BOE when the lawsuit was filed, was initially named as a plaintiff but later filed a voluntary dismissal removing himself from the action. Ritchie's attorney entered a voluntary dismissal in May 2002 severing the county government from the lawsuit, according to court records.
  An order signed by federal Judge Thomas Hull in November 2002 approved an out-of-court settlement reached between Pierce, the county school system and Ritchie. Carter County School Superintendent Dallas Williams confirmed last week that the lawsuit was settled between the school system and the plaintiff.
  "The board settled this case on advice of our lawyer and basically the settlement was due to the insurance companies and input into that," said Williams.
  Ritchie has since resigned as a school system employee while Pierce has retired. When contacted by the Star, both Lynice and Ernest Ritchie declined to comment on the lawsuit or the upcoming election. Pierce also declined comment on the lawsuit.