In a campaign where the challengers were saying change was needed in a county commission beset by conflict, Monroe County voters decided to change just one position, voting out Chairman Harold Carlisle, a Republican, in favor of attorney and farmer James Vaughn, a Democrat.
All of the other incumbents in the seven contested races Tuesday were returned to office, including District 1 Commissioner Larry Evans and District 2 Commissioner James Ham, both Democrats first elected 21 years ago. Vaughn defeated Carlisle 6,407-5,205, Ham defeated Charles Hampton 1,790-929 and Evans defeated William Myers 1,585-835.
The final results were not available until after 1:30 a.m. due to a delay in counting the nearly 900 paper absentee ballots. Election officials did not begin opening the mailed ballots until about an hour after the polls closed, and the first weren't run through the two vote-reading machines until after 9:30 p.m. About 50 ballots would not feed through the machines, so Probate Judge Karen Pitman and poll workers and Democratic and Republican observers hand read the faulty ballots and filled out new ballots with those votes to be fed through the machines.\
That made for a long night for new Tax Commissioner Lori Andrews, who had to wait until nearly 1:30 a.m. to be certain she had defeated Republican Barbara Baswell 6,189-5,480 in a race that swung back and forth as results were released. Andrews will replace long-time Tax Commissioner Patsy Miller, who is retiring at the end of the year. In the other county-wide race, Republican Chief Magistrate Jeff Davis topped Mark Goolsby 6,933-4,708 to return to office for a second term.
In two Board of Education races, incumbent Tammy Fletcher won 1,056-833 over Clete Sanders to retain the District 6 seat, and retired educator Judy Pettigrew (1,088 votes) won a three-way race with Robert Lee Watson (262) and Sonya Williams (134) to replace Ricky Niblett in District 4. Niblett is stepping down because he is moving out of the district.
Carlisle, who had served two terms as a district commissioner before being elected four years ago to the chairman's seat, said he was relieved the campaign was finished and that he will be leaving office at the end of the year. "I think I'm relieved. I'm tired of fighting the good old boy system," Carlisle said. "I'm not really surprised at the outcome. I knew some of (Presidential candidate Barack Obama's Democratic) coattail would get me. Maybe people were ready for a change. I gave it my best shot."
Vaughn, who has been an assistant county attorney in the past, said he was looking forward to working with Ham and Evans and the two commissioners who didn't face re-election this year -- Republicans Jim Peters and Mike Bilderback.
"I feel real good about (winning) and I'm excited to get to work," Vaughn said. "I think we'll be fine as a board. I've worked with both (Ham and Evans) in the past and think we can work together. We'll just try to set a new tone and move forward."
Ham and Evans said they believe the change in chairmen will greatly improve the commissioners' ability to work together.
"I'm glad to see that change," Evans said of Carlisle's defeat. "We had too many wishy washy deals with him, being one way one day and another the next. We had an unworkable relationship. I think this change will be good for the county."
Ham said he was not surprised with the outcome.
"Folks had had enough," he said. "It is a new day in Monroe County. I hope at the end of the next four years I can say it is the best board I've worked with; I've just finished the worst four years I've had on the board."
To contact writer Chuck Thompson, call 744-4489.