Wise County commissioners on Monday discussed appointing an interim justice of the peace for Precinct 2 – but they weren’t prepared to take action.
The post was left vacant just two-and-a-half weeks ago when Judge Terri Johnson was killed April 26 in a car accident on U.S. 81/287 south of Decatur.
“We have the utmost respect for JP Johnson and the last thing we would want to do is offend anyone, but we realize that business in the county has to go on,” County Judge Glenn Hughes said. “And I know that Terri would want us to continue.
“We felt like it’s not fair to the other JPs to have to give up time … and we’re going to have to do this,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ll come to a decision this morning or not, but it’s something that needs to be discussed.”
But no one had a suggestion as to who to appoint.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said a few people had asked him about getting their names on the ballot, but no one had expressed interest in serving as the interim.
“Most want to be appointed and go on to serve (in the new term),” he said.
The interim JP will serve until the next general election, which is in November. Johnson was running unopposed this year for a third term in office, and the county Republican Executive Committee is tasked with naming a candidate to replace her on the ballot.
“Would you feel uncomfortable appointing someone to that position … and then them being put on the ballot in November as the new JP?” Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White asked Burns.
“I do,” Burns said. “I don’t want to make that selection. I would almost say I would discourage that committee from using our appointment, but that’s none of our business. It’s a separate matter.”
In recent years, commissioners’ unofficial rule in such a situation has been to appoint someone who has no intention of running for the office.
White said this is slightly different because Johnson didn’t have a Democratic opponent.
“There’s no election involved here,” he said. (The Executive Committee’s) appointment and our appointment are two separate things, so I don’t see how it could be conflicting, saying it’s giving someone a heads-up in the nomination because we’re appointing them.
“I agree with what you’re saying,” he told Burns, “… but we’ve never had these circumstances either. Usually you have an election … but there’s no election here.”
Burns reiterated that people had approached him about being placed on the ballot, but no one had inquired about being named interim JP.
Hughes said he thinks there are people that would be willing to serve as interim as a way to serve their community, but he acknowledged they would need a few days for outreach.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Gary Potts said a few names had been mentioned to him as potential appointees, but he wasn’t comfortable nominating someone at that time.
At the suggestion of Hughes, commissioners decided to call a special meeting next week to again consider the issue.
Then, shortly after the meeting adjourned, Hughes decided to move next week’s meeting to this Thursday. An email from his office said, “Judge Hughes did not see a reason to delay this item until next week.”
Commissioners will meet at 1 p.m. Thursday to further discuss the issue.
J.D. Clark is leading the search committee for a candidate to replace Johnson on the November ballot. The committee also includes Eric Marney, Rick Duwe and Ann Williams. Applications are being accepted through Wednesday, May 21.