Witt embarks on race for clerk

Sandra Clark

Sherry Witt is a well-liked, respected county officeholder who will find herself out of work in late 2018. So the register of deeds for 10 years is seeking to become Knox County clerk. “There’s an opening in the clerk’s office and I’m applying,” she says.

Term limits will kick in next year for Mayor Tim Burchett, Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones, Witt and Clerk Foster Arnett. In addition, Cathy Quist Shanks has said she will not run for re-election as clerk of Circuit and Sessions courts.

Witt, 58, has worked in the register’s office since she graduated from UT. She was chief deputy to Steve Hall before taking the top job. Now her deputy, Nick McBride, is seeking to move up.

A potential primary opponent has emerged. State Rep. Roger Kane is eyeing a courthouse post. He’s already announced he won’t seek re-election to the Legislature.

Foster Arnett has been an anomaly among officeholders. He’s tough to work for, has sued the county for an unhealthy work environment (mold), and forgot that collecting hotel/motel taxes is part of his job. Yet he beat well-known Republicans Mike McMillan and Scott Moore in the 2010 primary and handily defeated former clerk Mike Padgett in 2014.

Witt won’t commit on Arnett’s tenure, but she sees similarities between the duties of register and clerk.

“I have extensive experience in how a fee office works. Voters can have confidence in my ability to operate a fiscally responsible clerk’s office without compromising the level of service they deserve.”

Witt has served as president of the state registers association and was voted Tennessee’s Outstanding Register in 2015.

She is proud of her record in the register’s office. “We have reduced staff and budget over 10 years,” she says. Her office is totally paperless, with records stored electronically, saving about a million copies per year. She has reduced staff through attrition as technology has made record-keeping more efficient. The office currently has 22 full-time and six part-time seasonal positions.

Witt’s family includes daughters Shay and Chelsey; son-in-law Shane Gordon; and grandsons Grelyn and Seth. The life of an officeholder is busy, she says. Office hours are 8-4:30 weekdays. Some days start with a pre-work breakfast meeting. Many evenings are committed to nonprofits or Republican clubs.

She is not worried about a primary opponent.

“I grew up with seven brothers and sisters,” she says. “I’ve had to fight for everything I’ve got.”

Gossip and lies

A quick way to a good job is to make noises about running for governor. Bill Hagerty is the new U.S. ambassador to Japan. What’s up for Beth Harwell as Team Haslam clears the path for Randy Boyd?

Doug Harris, former school board chair, led a behind-the-scenes effort to persuade the board to retain interim superintendent Buzz Thomas for another year. It was no-go.

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