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Pothole fix sparks anger, accusations

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Denny rejects claim that road patching helped his campaign for county clerk

By Ben Carlson

A recently patched pothole has resulted in one magistrate accusing another of trying to benefit his campaign for county clerk by requesting roadwork outside of his district.

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Magistrate Jason Denny, who is running for county clerk, submitted a work order to have roadwork done in the Honeysuckle subdivision, located in Magistrate Larry Smith's district. Smith said Denny had no business submitted work orders in his district, and that Denny did so to help win support for his campaign for county clerk.

"He wanted credit for getting it done to benefit his campaign," Smith said. "It's just not the right thing to do.

"It doesn't take a person with any education to know what's going on. It's politicking, and everyone running is going to promise people something. I'm not going to play their games."

Denny said that's not true.

"Those who know me can tell you that I don't work that way," said Denny. "I turned in several other requests on the same request form, including several in my own district. This issue of Honeysuckle was brought to me two months ago. I talked to [county highway foreman] Chip Chambers then, and it just now got fixed."

Smith and Denny crossed swords briefly during last Tuesday's Anderson County Fiscal Court meeting. Smith bristled over the work being done in his district, saying that if a magistrate is going to order work outside of his own district, he should have the decency to let the other magistrate know.

Denny countered that he didn't want to get "into this" during the meeting.

Smith said they could do it then or he would "put it to him" later, which he did.

A few minutes after the meeting, the two had a heated exchange.

"I told him what he did was inappropriate and that's not the right way to do thing," Smith said afterward. "I told him that's not the right way to treat our constituents or the magistrates on this court. He didn't like that at all. What made me so mad is that he was so arrogant about it."

What Denny said he didn't like was having one of Smith's fingers pointed in his face.

"I apologized for not calling him, but the residents had complained and couldn't get their problem solved," said Denny. "He told me that wasn't my place. I told him that I only did it after I was told that they had already talked to him and had gotten nowhere. I then proceeded to twice ask him to remove his finger out of my face."

The work was done on Emma Lee Drive, one of several roads in Honeysuckle that have been sore spots since the development opened.

Smith said he is well aware of the problems there, and submitted work orders 10 months ago to have a number of problems corrected.

"If he had asked, I would have told him that I had several places I wanted fixed," Smith said. "The area we're talking about is about 10 feet by 6 feet. By the time you pay six men to move the equipment out there, it takes two hours. You work 10 minutes then move out. It doesn't make sense to me."

Denny said that to his knowledge, no work orders were turned in for the Honeysuckle subdivision, and that other work has been done in that area.

"My mistake is that I should have called him," Denny said. "Although, if someone turned in a request in my district and it benefited my residents and helped me, I would appreciate his help.

"When I took my oath of office, it was for the entire county."

Smith said he didn't bring up the issue to hurt Denny's campaign for county clerk, and only did so during the meeting after Denny included the work after Chambers, the road foreman, read a list of repairs his crew had recently made.

Still, Denny questioned Smith's timing of making it an issue during a fiscal court meeting.

"He's known about this work for a week," Denny said. "My question is that if he was so upset with me, then why did he wait until Tuesday to bring it up?

"I'll be glad to sit down with him in a civilized manner as men and discuss this matter any time."

Cornish, the judge-executive, said he wasn't immediately sure if work orders were previously submitted for Honeysuckle, and that some go directly to Chambers.

He said he frequently submits work orders for districts when made aware of the work, and as long as the other magistrate knows it's being done, doesn't see anything wrong with them submitting them in each other's districts.

"I agree with Magistrate Smith that the magistrates need to know what's going on in their districts," Cornish said.

As for Denny attempting to benefit his campaign, Cornish said that's something he doesn't agree with.

"I haven't seen or heard of anything to say that Magistrate Denny has done anything unethical," Cornish said. "A magistrate does not have the power to tell the road foreman what to do, and as far as I know, that's not happening."