From the Chattanooga Times Free Press: A Charleston, Tennessee, city employee has filed a federal civil rights complaint against the city manager and city recorder, alleging discriminatory actions affected his bid for a Bradley County Commission seat.
The complaint was filed Feb. 22 with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.
In it, Charleston public works director and former County Commission candidate Chris Scoggins alleges City Manager Carolyn Geren and City Recorder Janet Newport in February 2022 told city employees and elected officials a local ordinance bars them from publicly supporting Scoggins’ campaign.
“The city recorder and the city manager advised the employees and the city commissioners along with the mayor of the town that they could not openly support, campaign or display signs in the name of the city employee who was running for office,” Scoggins, 50, states in the complaint. “It was found that the city manager was citing an old city code or ordinance that had been outdated by federal law by over 30 years.”
Although there are laws preventing public employees from using their office to benefit one candidate or another in a political campaign, the employees generally retain rights to political expression under the First Amendment and other constitutional provisions, according to the County Technical Assistance Service at the University of Tennessee.
The announcement allegedly abridging those rights happened Feb. 28, 2022, prior to the May primaries in Tennessee, according to the complaint.
Scoggins lost in the May Republican primary to longtime seatholder Louie Alford by 83 votes — 3.42% — in a three-way race, and he believes the outcome might have been different without the alleged interference. In the primary results for the Bradley County Commission District 2 Seat A primary, Alford had 45.27% of votes cast, Scoggins had 41.85% and Marc Christian Baker was a distant third with 12.51% of the vote tally, according to election records. Alford did not have an opponent in the August general election.
When contacted Tuesday, Newport said she and Geren most likely would not comment after they read a copy of Scoggins’ complaint provided by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
According to the federal agency website, once a complaint is received, it is reviewed to determine if it needs to be forwarded to another team or agency. The review team next will try to connect the complainant to the appropriate group or person, followed by a determination of the next steps. It can take several weeks for the agency to issue a response and longer to issue a determination of whether there were any violations found, the website states.
Scoggins said, to his knowledge, the old city code was never used in such a way before.
“They never used this to say you can’t support any other County Commission candidates,” Scoggins said Tuesday in a phone interview. “They should’ve been updated on the law.”
Scoggins said Tuesday he is still employed with the city but also has restarted an excavation company he once ran.