By Gordon Boyd
Eyewitness News Reporter
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - They needed five votes, spread out over three weeks.
But County Commissioners have selected their Chairman, Jim Coppinger, unanimously, to serve as Mayor after Claude Ramsey's resignation takes effect Tuesday at midnight.
"You new Commissioners have gotten a real baptism early," Vice Chairman Larry Henry says.
Ramsey is leaving to become chief-of-staff, or Deputy Governor, to Governor-elect Bill Haslam, who takes office Saturday.
As Chairman, Coppinger would have become Mayor by default had Commissioners been unable to break their 4-4 deadlock between he and Mayoral aide Mike Carter.
But Carter withdrew his candidacy over the weekend, and has resigned his position in the Mayor's office. He had suggested that some Commissioners were engaged in a 'backdoor scheme' to make Coppinger Mayor without another formal vote.
Carter didn't attend Monday's special meeting.
Coppinger was generous in victory.
"I never took that when we were divided on the vote that anyone was against Jim Coppinger or against Mike Carter," he says.
"It was a matter of preference. I have no doubt that we'll find unity on this Commission and in Hamilton County."
District 5 Commissioner Gregory Beck had supported Carter prior to Monday's vote.
"We will support you, at least I will, until you leave your position or I leave my position," Beck says.
After swearing-in Tuesday morning, Coppinger will serve as Mayor through the next election, in August 2012.
Vice Chairman Larry Henry will move up to Chairman. But Coppinger's elevation vacates his Commission seat in District 3.
"We'll open up the application process and set the schedule for filling it when we meet again Thursday," Henry says.
Monday's vote would have been impossible if Hamilton County's Emergency Services Department used 4-wheel-drive vehicles to pluck several Commissioners from their homes.
"I was snowed in," Beck says.
"We're not doing this on a regular basis," EMS Director Dan Allen says. "But I think voters wanted to get past this."
Several Commissioners wish the Mayoral vacancy hadn't been their decision to make.
"It probably would be better if we had some kind of election, than with the Commission deciding," Commissioner Jim Fields says.
"There should be a better system but we don't have that authority," Commissioner Fred Skillern says. Last Tuesday's deadlock prompted Skillern to resign as Chairman rather than chance being forced to serve as Mayor by default.
The legal complications often have left County Attorney Rheubin Taylor without precedents to cite.
"Maybe the laws need to be addressed so if it happens again, there's be a little more clarity than we have at this time," Taylor says.
Coppinger expects to meet with Ramsey's staff after he takes office Tuesday.
"I have great respect for the work that they do," he says. "I've not had time yet to decide what I might do differently."