When District 1 Wilson County Commissioner-elect Robert Fields takes the oath of office in September, there will be no legal way for commissioners to remove him, according to county attorney Mike Jennings.
Fields has been under fire since he posted information about opponent Tim Roehler on Facebook. Fields said Roehler “kept quiet” about the fact that his wife is black and his children are interracial, and he also said Roehler is a Democrat. The race was non-partisan.
“Since he was not an officially a county commissioner at the time of the post, there’s nothing that can be done to remove him,” said Jennings.
Fields posted the comments after the tied election, but before the provisional votes were counted. After that, Fields was declared the winner by one vote.
Phillip Warren, Wilson County administrator of elections, said there is also no way for citizens to petition the county to recall him and put a new race on the November ballot.
“This is a not something the citizens can do,” he said. “The county is ruled by state law, Cities are not ruled by state law, because they have a charter. However, counties do not have a charter and are regulated by state law. There is nothing in state law that addresses that situation.”
Terri Nicholson, chair of the Wilson County Republican Party, said, “It was a non-partisan election and does not pertain to the Wilson County Republican Party. Mr. Fields ran as an independent.”
Republican state Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, said he hasn’t followed the controversy and didn’t know enough to comment.
Republican state Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, didn’t immediately respond to calls for comment.
Several commissioners were outspoken about Fields taking the oath to be sworn in as a commissioner.
“Read about this soon-to-be racist Wilson County commissioner,” Commissioner Annette Stafford said on her Facebook page. “Now will you vote?”
Roehler said on his Facebook page, “I have been asked so many times in the last few days, and even more so in the hours since hearing the results of the provisional ballots. For me, that is an easy question. I am the same person I was yesterday, the same person I was on Aug. 2, the same person I was before filing my qualifying petition.
“I am a person who loves his community and believes in the power of service to it. I will continue to serve my community in whatever way I can because you, the people of Wilson County, deserve it. You deserve to have someone you can call and trust that they will help you regardless of your skin color, party affiliation or other beliefs.”
Fields and Roehler were tied at 526 votes with the two provisional votes up in the air after the Aug. 2 Wilson County General Election. After the two provisional ballots were counted, one went to Fields, and he was declared the winner.
Fields can choose to take the seat, or, with notice to the county mayor and commission, not take the seat. If that were the case, the commission could appoint a replacement, but there’s no guarantee it would be Roehler, or it could include a special election on the Nov. 6 ballot to fill the seat.
Outgoing Commissioner Jeff Joines has said he plans to file a complaint with the Wilson County Ethics Committee.
“If he is sworn into office, I will [file the complaint],” Joines said. “I will have the ethics complaint filled out and ready to go the minute he takes the oath of office.”
District 9 Commissioner Sara Patton said she plans on “presenting a resolution that states that I don’t agree with Mr. Fields’ [comment]. It doesn’t do anything [to him], but it just presents our opinion.”
She said Wednesday no commissioners had spoken to her to co-sponsor the resolution, but they are welcome to do so if they wish. However, Joines said he planned to be a co-sponsor.
Commissioner-elect Chris Dowell, who is black, married to a white woman, and they have children, said Fields “shouldn’t be seated near me, because he probably won’t like me.”
In the District 6 race, Kenny Reich and Kevin Graves remain tied with 571 votes apiece. With no provisional ballots in that race, either the commission will cast the deciding vote, or it will be placed on the Nov. 6 ballot as a runoff. The commission is expected to make that decision at its Aug. 20 meeting.