Lisa Peterson, former DeKalb County election administrator who lost her job in April when a Republican-majority election commission took over has filed a lawsuit against the commission claiming they conspired before taking office to fire her.
Peterson, who had been election administrator for DeKalb County since 1998, filed the suit in Chancery Court Friday.
In the lawsuit, Peterson is asking the court to declare the action of the election commission terminating her as arbitrary, illegal, and void.
Peterson is further requesting that the court, pursuant to state law and upon a final hearing, order the election commission to immediately reinstate her to the position as administrator of elections and award her back pay, compensatory damages in the amount of $500,000 and the penalty allowed by law, and that the court grant all other relief it deems equitable and appropriate.
During a meeting of the election commission on Friday, April 24th at the courthouse, Nolan Turner, a Democrat, made a motion to place Peterson's name in nomination for re-appointment to the position. Democrat Kenneth Moore seconded the motion. Republican members Barbara Vanatta and Jim Dean voted against Peterson and Republican Chairman Walteen Parker chose not to vote.
After Peterson failed to get the three votes she needed, Dean then placed Dennis Stanley's name in nomination for administrator. Vanatta seconded the motion. Chairman Parker joined them in voting for Stanley while Turner and Moore voted no. Stanley is now the Administrator of Elections for DeKalb County
The lawsuit states that "At all times during her tenure as administrator of elections, Ms. Peterson ably performed her job and carried out the duties of the office with political impartiality and in accordance with the law and the trust placed in her to be responsible for the daily operations of their office and the execution of all elections."
"Members of the Commission are appointed in compliance with state law. Three appointees on the Commission are required to be members of the majority party in the state legislature and two appointees are members of the minority party.'
"Upon information and belief, prior to their appointment or reappointment as County Election Commissioners, the majority party appointees to the Commission committed and pledged to members and officials of the state and county Republican party, as a requisite condition of their appointment to the Commission, to replace Ms. Peterson and appoint a member of the Republican party to replace her."
"Prior to the April 24th, 2009 public meeting of the Commission, the three majority party appointees to the Commission held a meeting and communicated and deliberated in private; secretly decided and agreed to terminate Ms. Peterson's employment and secretly decided and agreed to appoint a Republican to the position of administrator of elections."
"At the April 24th, 2009 meeting of the Commission, the three majority party members of the Commission appointed a new administrator of elections, effectively terminating Ms. Peterson's employment on the sole basis of her perceived political party affiliation which differed from the majority party members of the Commission."
"At the April 24th, 2009 meeting of the Commission, which was chaired and controlled by a majority party member, the Commission failed to consider "the knowledge and experience of such prospective appointee in the following areas: administrative, managerial, instructional, communication, budgetarial, purchasing, promotional, legal, and general office skills and other related skills necessary to fulfill the statutory requirements of administrator" when evaluating its prospective appointee as mandated by state law."
"It is unlawful to impose a political test for the office of administrator of elections. Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution of the State of Tennessee states as follows: That no political or religious test, other than an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and of this State, shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this State."
The lawsuit alleges that "The termination of Ms. Peterson was arbitrary and illegal, without cause, and contrary to the legal obligations of the Commission; it was in direct violation of the Open Meetings Act, State law, and the Constitution of the State of Tennessee."
Peterson further alleges that "The Commission violated the Open Meetings Act, State law, which applies to the DeKalb County Election Commission, by a majority of its members' meeting, communicating, and deliberating in private, secretly decided and agreeing to terminate Ms. Peterson's employment, and secretly deciding and agreeing to appoint a Republican to the position of administrator of elections prior to the April 24th, 2009 public meeting of the commission."
"The Commission's act of terminating Ms. Peterson and appointing a new Republican administrator of elections should be deemed null and void."
Peterson is being represented by the law office Blackburn & McCune, PPLC in Nashville. Gary Blackburn is the lead attorney of the firm.