Armstrong battles to hold job

Victor Ashe
Government/Politics columnist

The county law director’s contest is only in the GOP primary on March 1 with early voting beginning today.

It is a two-way race between Bud Armstrong and Nathan Rowell. No Democrat is running.

Rowell has raised more money than Armstrong, the incumbent, having defeated Joe Jarret four years ago. Armstrong, 65, is married and lives with his wife, Patti Jo, in the Ramsey community of East Knox County.

Over coffee at Panera recently (I spoke with Rowell a few weeks earlier) he was clearly proud of his record and reducing costs in the county law director’s office. He says he has saved over $1 million in cutting the use of outside legal counsel. Cost is down to $260,000 a year.

He says settlement costs are down from $700,000 a year to $300,000. When asked why, he says, “I don’t blink as easily. If you are going to get taxpayers’ money you have to earn it.”

The office has 20 employees with nine of them being hired by Armstrong. He says he did not force anyone to depart after he took office. He took over the delinquent tax attorney duties from the trustee’s office and has saved over $200,000 a year. In the past, farming out the delinquent tax attorney duties to a private attorney was a lucrative benefit to the attorney. He says over $11 million in delinquent taxes have been collected over his four years as law director.

Rowell is backed by much of the GOP financial leadership and friends of outgoing school Superintendent Jim McIntyre. They succeeded in electing Tracie Sanger to the school board last year, a non-partisan race. Armstrong has much of the traditional GOP worker base helping him plus Phyllis Severance, who is effective in running local campaigns. Armstrong is favored but Rowell is in the contest with an ample war chest.

This contest proves again that the office should be filled by the county mayor with county commission confirmation. Some of the issues in this campaign have little to do with the qualifications of either candidate.

Now is the time for a charter amendment, so the new county mayor in 2020 can appoint the law director. Knox County voters would have to approve such an amendment.

Two prior Knox County law directors have become state judges. They are Dale Workman, now retired, and Mike Moyers, chancellor. One city law director, Thomas Varlan, became a federal judge.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich will speak at the Knox County Lincoln Day dinner on Saturday Feb. 27, at Rothchild’s. As of this writing he is still a candidate for president. Whether he will still be a candidate at month’s end, he will still be an interesting and informed speaker based on his service in the U.S. House and as governor.

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Brock and his wife, Sandy, now divide their time between Palm Beach, Florida, in the winter and Annapolis, Maryland, the rest of the year.

Recently I had coffee with him in Florida. He keeps up with Tennessee events and his son Oscar Brock is a Rubio delegate candidate in the March 1 primary. He also backs Rubio for president.

Brock also served as Secretary of Labor and U.S. Trade Representative under President Reagan. He chaired the Republican National Committee. At 85, he is Tennessee’s oldest living senator and is in excellent health, walking several miles every day.

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