The difficult task of replacing Ross Alderman as the Metro Public Defender will fall to one of five finalists whose names were submitted for consideration for the vacancy.
Metro Council at its Sept. 16 meeting will vote to appoint someone to fill out Alderman’s elected term, which expires in 2010.
Among the five finalists are two from the Metro Public Defender’s office, including Deputy Laura Dykes. Assistant Public Defender Dawn Deaner is the other candidate from the office.
According to several observers, Council members had asked the Public Defender’s office to coalesce behind a single candidate, which didn’t happen.
Along with Dykes and Deaner, the other finalists are attorney Shirley Fitzgerald Corry, federal public defender Skip Gant and Metro Human Relations Commission Executive Director Kelvin Jones.
Gant, 61, is said by observers to be an intriguing option because he has 26 years experience working as a public defender and would prevent Council from having to make the difficult choice between two inner-office candidates.
All five candidates have begun conversations with Council members to make their case for the position.
The public defender spot opened up when Alderman passed away tragically earlier this month after a motorcycle accident.
“They are huge shoes to fill,” District 7 Councilman Erik Cole said. “It’s a terribly untimely situation with Ross’s passing. It’s been difficult for a lot of us to grieve and then to consider appointing a replacement.”
With the exception of an 11-month hiatus, Dykes has been in the Metro Public Defender’s office for 20 years. Alderman appointed her as the deputy eight years ago and she has been serving as interim director since his passing.
“When Ross was the public defender, he appointed me his deputy,” Dykes said. “That was eight years ago. What that means, at least in our office, is I’m the person Ross trusted to act in his absence as the director. And while we never anticipated his absence to be more than a day or a week for a vacation-type absence, he’s been training me by virtue of sharing with me his job duties for eight years.”
Deaner, the other in-house candidate, has worked in the public defender’s office for 11 of the past 12 years. Her year outside the office was with the Metro Law Department.
“I think whoever gets the job needs to have a demonstrated commitment to the public defender’s office and what we do. I certainly think I have demonstrated that commitment,” Deaner said. “I think the person who gets this job needs to know the staff here. This is an office of people, people that I care about, and I think it’s important that whoever takes over knows the staff and is able to work with them.”
Gant said he had never considered running for a political office, but believed he was the best candidate for the job. Gant said he was a close friend of Alderman and the two often consulted each other on cases.
“I’m so apolitical, I have no idea how to [campaign for the position with Council members],” Gant said. “I am just reaching out to people how to do this.
“In light of who it is that I know seeking the position, I believe I’m the best choice. That’s not to say they’re not good, but I believe my experience makes me the best choice,” he added.
Jones ran for the post in 2006, but lost to Alderman after a somewhat contentious campaign. He has served as the Human Relations executive director since 2004.
Neither Jones or Corry could be reached for comment after the 4 p.m. filing deadline with the Metro Clerk.
The Metro Public Defender post has served as an unlikely launching pad for local politicians like Mayor Karl Dean and Judge Walter Kurtz. Former Mayor Bill Purcell also served in the office.