UNICOI, TN (WJHL)- As election season is upon us a county in our region is discussing whether or not one of their county officials is actually legally allowed to represent them. Current Unicoi County Alderman Doug Hopson is running for re-election but it seems one debate that began four years ago has now resurfaced.
The question is whether Hopson is actually a resident of the Town of Unicoi. On Monday morning, the Unicoi County election commission held a meeting to discuss whether or not Hopson is legally allowed to remain on a Unicoi ballot.
While Hopson said he partially owns his deceased parents’ property in Unicoi, he said his residence is currently located in the Quail Run community of Erwin. Hopson said he previously owned a home in Unicoi but traded it for his Erwin residence back in 2009. Hopson said it has always been his intent to move back to the town of Unicoi.
Hopson said, “My intentions have always been to go back to Unicoi. I vote in Unicoi and I’m working out there 90% of the time.”
While some citizens praised Hopson’s work ethic saying, “He has done some much for the town of Unicoi… more than any other alderman that I know.”
Others criticized his ability to run for office in a town that he doesn’t live in full-time. One attendee said, “Is there something I missed? He wants to move ‘back’ to Unicoi! It’s not about your house being for sale… It’s about where you physically locate yourself and your family.”
Unicoi County Election Commission member Marvin Rogers said, “It’s just a vague law.”
And therefore they have no choice but to follow Tennessee law’s wording. Rogers said, “I wish that they would rewrite it, but as it is written, and I’ve read it over two dozen times or more, the only thing I can do is look at that wording and again the key word is intent.”
According to the election commission, the state mandates that if a candidate’s “intent” is to reside in the town that they are wishing to represent then they have to take that person’s word as fact. Commission Chairman Thomas Reeves stated, “There being no motion… then Mr. Hopson’s name will remain on the ballot.”
So come November, Doug Hopson’s name will be on the ballot to run for re-election as a Unicoi town alderman.
Hopson said, “I’ve done nothing but go by the law and my intentions all along have been to sell the home out here (in Erwin) and go back to the home place in Unicoi or buy another home in Unicoi.”
The Unicoi County Election Commission said that 9 homes have sold in the past 4 years in the same community as Hopson’s Erwin residence. That’s why Unicoi Town Alderman Kathy Bullen said she believes 4 years has been more than enough time for Hopson to demonstrate a real attempt to sell his home in Erwin and relocate to Unicoi.
The Unicoi County election commissioners agree that the law’s wording needs clarification and that’s why they are reaching out to local lawmakers for help.
Reeves said, “That’s why I’ve called on Senator Rusty Crowe and other members of the state legislature to get in there and clean it up. It needs to be cleaned up, it’s been years that this has come up in other jurisdictions… not just ours.”
Bullen said this discussion isn’t over as allowing Hopson to run violates the Town of Unicoi’s charter.
Bullen said, “I have to do what is right and I have to lay my head on the pillow at night knowing that I’ve done what I think is right… the citizens will just have to decide.”
Bullen said this matter will also be discussed at the next Board of Mayor and Alderman meeting in the Town of Unicoi.
In addition to electing aldermen on November 8th, Unicoi voters will also elect a mayor. They will also cast ballots on a referendum that would allow food stores in Unicoi to sell wine.
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