If it wasn’t already, the race for Roane County property assessor has grown heated.
There are allegations that the incumbent threatened to beat up her challenger and questions about who owns a website address that was once used by the incumbent but now appears to point to unfavorable articles about her.
The two candidates, incumbent Teresa Kirkham and challenger David Morgan, also disagree on whether property assessment values can be lowered more often than every five years.
Morgan said Kirkham threatened him on a sidewalk between the old and new Roane County courthouses in Kingston on Friday afternoon, saying “I’ll whip your ass if you mention my name again.”
He said he initially tried to avoid Kirkham but called the police after she threatened him.
“I don’t want to fight with anybody,” Morgan said.
But Kirkham accused Morgan of lying about the incident. She said she walked by him once outside the courthouse but didn’t say anything to him.
“He’s doing it for publicity,” Kirkham said of Morgan’s allegation. “I don’t threaten anybody.”
She said Morgan had a reporter in the courthouse parking lot before he called 911, a charge that Morgan disputes.
“I didn’t even know it was going to happen,” he said.
Both candidates offered contact information for witnesses who could corroborate their stories.
The Kingston Police Department confirmed that they responded to the incident on Friday, but no police report was filed.
The candidates, who debated at an Oak Ridge forum last week, also traded accusations this week over the website address www.teresakirkham.com.
Visits to that address lead to a rotating series of stories that appear unfavorable to Kirkham or lead to the websites of opponents or former opponents, including Morganâ€™s website at www.fairpropertyassessments.com.
Kirkham said she used to have a website at www.teresakirkham.com, and it was owned and managed by Brad Parish, who is now working for Morgan.
Parish said he bought the domain name about four years ago because he thought Kirkham was then the best candidate. He put up contact information and a photo for Kirkham.
Later, he tried to give her control of the domain name, but “her folks couldn’t figure out how to accept it,” Parish said. His ownership of the domain name expired a few years ago, and Parish, who said he does volunteer work for Morgan, said he doesn’t know who owns it now.
Morgan said he also doesn’t know who owns the address.
“It might just be the spammers,” he said.
The domain name is registered through GoDaddy.com to Internet Spam of Washington, D.C., although it’s not clear if that’s an actual company.
Parish pointed out that other candidates, including Tennessee Rep. Julia Hurley, have also lost control of their websites.
He said buying a domain name is like buying a house.
“If you buy a domain name, it’s yours,” Parish said.
Parish and Morgan both allege that Kirkham’s former website was never listed on her campaign disclosures, and they said it should have been.
Kirkham and Morgan also clashed over whether property assessment values can be lowered at any time other than during five-year reappraisals.
Morgan, a 43-year-old engineer and manager who was laid off last year from Marglen Industries in Rome, Ga., said the property assessor can lower values to fair market values.
He said he thinks Roane County property assessments are a minimum of 30 percent higher than fair market value on average.
Despite what Kirkham says, some property assessments are going up, even without improvements, Morgan said.
“They’re changing them now in 2012,” he said.
He said the Roane County Property Assessor’s Office has changed property assessment values at Rarity Ridge, where there have been many foreclosures, and reduced property assessment values in the Swan Pond community, affected by the December 2008 ash spill from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant.
If Kirkham can cut those values, why can’t she cut them elsewhere, Morgan asked.
Kirkham, who is 54 and running for a fifth term as property assessor, said she can’t legally adjust property assessment values after the five-year reappraisals but can make changes based on home and structural conditions.
If property assessment values were lowered, she said, then Roane County commissioners would have to raise the property tax rate to produce the same amount of revenue as the county is currently collecting.
She said property values on Osprey Way in Swan Pond were “frozen” because there were no sales, and values went down due to the ash spill.
She said assessment values were lowered at Rarity Ridge due to foreclosures. Her office used state law to re-evaluate the area and reappraise properties, Kirkham said.
She said property values went up about 23 percent on average between the 2005 and 2010 reappraisals, but they have dropped between 15 and 20 percent since 2010.
Kirkham, Roane County property assessor for 20 years, said she would lower assessment values 30 percent if she could, but it’s illegal to raise them due to inflation and lower them due to deflation between reappraisals.
“This is a down economy, and we can’t go back and adjust,” she said.