CLINTON—Her honesty has been questioned, and she has been the subject of a politically motivated smear campaign, Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank said.
Anderson County Commission Chairman Chuck Fritts has accused her of taking advantage of taxpayers by using a county car and accepting travel payments, Frank during a Monday morning press conference at the Anderson County Courthouse in Clinton.
But in a roughly 3,000-word speech, Frank said she hasn’t driven the county car—even though she could. And she has not requested any reimbursement for travel, even though she would be eligible to request reimbursement for more than 1,800 miles, Frank told about 50 people gathered in front of the courthouse on a chilly Monday morning.
“There is one accusation that will never stick, and that is that I would abuse your tax dollars for my own personal enrichment,” Frank said.
She said she has violated no laws, and Fritts’ charges are politically motivated.
Fritts, who was not immediately available for comment Monday morning, recently told the Knoxville News Sentinel that Frank needs to choose between the monthly $400 travel stipend and the county car, a 1998 Ford Crown Victoria once used by the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department.
“She really owes the taxpayers back,” Fritts said.
But Frank said she had only recently learned of the stipend. During Monday’s roughly 20-minute press conference, she described it as a salary supplement added to the mayor’s salary in 1988 under former Anderson County Mayor David Bolling. It was removed in January 2011 when former Mayor Rex Lynch resigned, but reinstated retroactively under former Interim Mayor Myron Iwanksi.
She said Fritts hasn’t asked any other mayor to refund taxpayer money they requested for travel reimbursement, and Fritts voted in favor of a salary increase under Iwanski that was designed to help the former interim mayor cover personal vehicle expenses.
Frank accused Fritts of driving the Crown Victoria to Nashville in February 2011 and not returning the vehicle the way he received it. Instead, the commission chairman chose to only put three gallons of gas in it on the way home, for the last few miles of the trip, “rather than fill it up and request reimbursement from the appropriate commission travel code,” Frank said.
She said Fritts has submitted 32 requests for travel reimbursement during his time in office, and all but one were for travel in his personal vehicle.
Meanwhile, Frank said, she has made improvements to her county office—painting it, for example—and bought supplies at her own expense. And she hasn’t asked for reimbursement for parking fees or meals while she has been conducting county business.
That doesn’t make her better than previous mayors or other county employees, who are legally entitled to reimbursement, Frank said.
“However, I feel in my heart and gut that we are living in perilous economic times, and I believe it is up to me to go the extra mile in setting an example for those I work with,” she said. “I want to show them I am sacrificing too.”
Frank said she did not want to “smear” Fritts, but she had been smeared.
“I am hopeful Commissioner Fritts will admit he misunderstood the law and misjudged me as a person,” Frank said. “I am hopeful to work with him in improving the lives of the people in his district and all the people of Anderson County.”
Frank, who was elected in August to serve the remaining two years of Lynch’s term, took no questions at the press conference.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
Note: This story was last updated at 12:35 p.m.