Note: This story was last updated at 11:50 a.m.
Among the races on the ballot in the primary election in Anderson County today (Tuesday, May 1) are mayor, sheriff, trustee, county clerk, circuit court clerk, and register of deeds.
At least three of the races—mayor, county clerk, and register of deeds—could be decided in the Republican Party primary today because there are no Democrats running for those offices. That’s assuming there are no write-in candidates for those races in the August 2 county general election.
The Republican candidates for mayor are Terry Frank, the incumbent, and Anderson County Commissioner Steve Emert. The GOP candidates for county clerk are Jeff Cole, the incumbent, and his challenger, businesswoman Leesa Arowood. Tim Shelton is running for re-election as register of deeds, and he is being challenged in the Republican primary by Rocky Top City Manager Michael Foster.
There are no Democrats on today’s ballot for circuit court clerk, but there is a write-in candidate who plans to run as a Democrat in the August election. There is also a Republican write-in candidate in the race. It initially appeared this election could be decided today, but it now appears there could be the Republican nominee, either incumbent William Jones or former mayor Rex Lynch, plus two possible write-in candidates.
Republicans will choose one of three candidates for sheriff: Russell Barker, a Clinton Police Department detective sergeant and director of the Seventh Judicial District Crime Task Force in Anderson County; Oak Ridge Police Department Officer Lewis Ridenour, a former chief deputy for the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department who has been the ORPD liaison to the U.S. Department of Energy; and Mark “Hollywood” Whaley, who has worked for the Sheriff’s Department for more than 33 years, including in the jail and on patrol.
The Republican nominee for sheriff is expected to face Mark Lucas, Anderson County Sheriff’s Department chief deputy, in the county general election in August. Lucas is the only Democratic candidate for sheriff on today’s Democratic Party primary ballot.
The current sheriff, Paul White, is retiring at the end of this four-year term in August.
Republicans also have three candidates for trustee: Clinton Mayor Scott Burton, 911 Director Regina Copeland, and former County Commissioner Scott Gillenwaters.
The winner of that election in today’s Republican primary is expected to face the only Democratic candidate, Ebony Capshaw, in August. There is no incumbent in this race. The current trustee, former County Commissioner Myron Iwanski, was appointed after former Trustee Rodney Archer accepted a new job, and Iwanski is not running for election.
Here is more information about the candidates who face opposition, all in the Republican primary:
In candidate forums, Frank, a former small business owner, has said she has proposed no-tax-increase budgets while in office and even offered a tax cut, helped take Anderson County off a negative financial “watch list,” reduced spending in five departments by $298,000, and helped establish an animal shelter.
She has kept her word to voters, Frank said. She pledged to keep the tax rate down, and she has helped level the playing field with the county’s neighbors, Frank said.
Emert, who owns a small business and has served as chair of the Anderson County Commission, said the county has to change direction. He cited hostility, bickering and fighting, zoning inspections that have been “outsourced,” lawsuits that he said have cost close to $500,000, and $1.8 million in debt for Anderson County EMS.
“Everyone in the audience knows that Anderson County government is a mess,” Emert said at one forum. “We keep throwing money out the window with lawsuits.”
Frank disagreed, saying “there are folks who want to make headlines.” She cited what she called positive developments, including with the Tennessee College of Applied Technology, business expansions, work to address the opioid crisis, and senior programs.
Emert cited the need for infrastructure, including for residential development, and he vowed to “get department heads together” and help bring civility back to the Anderson County Courthouse in Clinton. A plan is needed for EMS, or emergency medical services, Emert said.
In the race for sheriff, Ridenour objected to what he said has been a doubling of the sheriff’s budget, to $12 million. Big government and more money are not necessarily better, Ridenour said. He also expressed concern over a doubling in drug overdose deaths, and he said the Crime Task Force has not worked, calling it a “policing for profit” approach that includes property seizures. He’d be more inclined to work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Ridenour said.
Ridenour, who has taken a leave of office from the ORPD, said he would lead the Sheriff’s Department with a better allocation of resources, and he said he has the unique experience of being chief deputy, managing the sheriff’s budget and overseeing 170 men and women. He pledged to a two-term limit.
Barker disagreed with at least some of Ridenour’s claims, saying the crime task force model does work. He emphasized the importance of partnerships, including with the faith community and nonprofit organizations, to help address drug abuse issues.
Barker said it is imperative that the county have a school resource officer in every school, although he acknowledged that that will cost money. Citing his Marine service and degree in criminal justice, Barker said he has had leadership training, and he is currently the only Republican candidate who is leading people. It doesn’t matter if he’s leading five people or 500, Barker said.
Whaley said he is comfortable serving in every part of Anderson County. He also suggested the county have an SRO in each school, but it won’t be cheap, Whaley said. He said he taught drug abuse resistance education for more than two decades, and reducing the property crimes in Anderson County that are committed by people addicted to drugs won’t be easy, Whaley said. A multi-tiered approach is needed that changes how addicts think, Whaley said.
He doesn’t have administrative experience, Whaley said, but he has thousands of hours of training.
Circuit Court Clerk
At one forum, moderator Ron Meredith of WYSH Radio in Clinton asked the two candidates for Circuit Court Clerk, the incumbent William Jones and former Anderson County Mayor Rex Lynch, about current or past issues that might present an impediment.
Sexual harassment allegations have been filed against Jones, and the Anderson County Commission has censured him and asked him to resign. Jones is also being sued in federal court. But Jones has denied the allegations and is fighting back, including by filing defamation claims against two of the women who have complained about his behavior.
Lynch pleaded guilty in 2011 to eight charges that included sales tax fraud, fraud, and conflict of interest. His plea deal included judicial diversion, and the charges don’t appear on his record.
“I admit it: I made a mistake,” Lynch said at the April 3 forum for Anderson County Republican Party candidates at the Midtown Community Center. “I left a job that I truly loved. I had to go home and ask for forgiveness.”
He had to seek forgiveness from his church, wife, family, and children, Lynch said.
Now, Lynch said, he’s asking people to study his 12 years of service as county mayor. He supervised more than 120 employees and never had any problems, Lynch said.
That’s the way he would handle the office now if elected, said Lynch, who has worked for the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department for 2.5 years and serves in the courtroom of Anderson County General Sessions Court Judge Don Layton.
Jones didn’t directly address the sexual harassment allegations that have been made against him, but he said he does not have a hostile work environment, as has been alleged, and he thinks the current office staff is very comfortable working with him.
He suggested desperate people are after him.
“Desperate people will do anything,” Jones said. “False accusations have become the trend.”
Lynch has said there has been a high turnover rate in the Circuit Clerk’s office.
“Employees are leaving, and employees are moving from one office to the next,” Lynch said. “It’s a hostile work environment, and I’m going to put a stop to it.”
Lynch has cited the need for alternatives to fines for the indigent. Among the options would be community service. If elected, Lynch said, he will be professional and compassionate.
He vowed to eliminate what he said are costly audit findings, and he said he would improve communications with the judges.
Jones said there has been high turnover in his office, but that came from the people he “inherited,” presumably meaning those who worked in the office before he was elected in August 2014. There has been hostility, but it’s not from him, Jones said.
The office is an office of trust, and a candidate is needed who has not violated that trust before, Jones said.
He said he would, if re-elected, continue upgrading and getting records online. Jones said the office already has people who perform community service for court costs.
Register of Deeds
The incumbent register of deeds, Tim Shelton, said Anderson County is one of only two counties in Tennessee where residents can view deeds online with no charge. It’s the only county in Tennessee with records dating back to 1802, Shelton said.
Shelton said he has been nominated for register of deeds in Tennessee twice, a unique feat, and he was county official of the year this year. He said his office has never failed an audit. In fact, auditors have told him his office is well-run, Shelton said.
Foster said he is fiscal conservative who has managed a $1.4 million budget in Rocky Top, where he added $57,000 to the fund balance last year. He manages 30 employees there, Foster said.
He’s taken aim at the $86,000 deficit in the register of deeds office, saying he wants to operate the office within the fees generated by the office. He’s also been critical of Shelton’s history of being a Democrat.
“I’m the only Republican running,” Foster said.
Addressing that issue, Shelton, who ran as a Democrat in 2014 before switching to the Republican Party three years ago, said he’s a conservative Christian, and he saw where the Democratic Party was going. He found a home in the Republican Party, Shelton said.
He said there is a misconception about fees and how the office operates. The Anderson County office is one of more than 70 offices that don’t meet their fees as compared to their budgets, said Shelton, who added that he has cut staff. The office receives more than $1.5 million per year, but most of that goes to the state, he said. You might consider the office an unfunded mandate, Shelton said.
Jeff Cole, the incumbent, said he was County Clerk of the Year in 2016. He said his office has added new services related to driver’s license renewals, birth certificate copies, and passports, as well as an interactive website. There are also two drive-throughs, he said.
Arowood said she is a lifelong Republican who has 25 years years of business experience, including project management experience at ORAU and as co-broker of a realty firm. She knows how to keep a budget and manage employees, Arowood said.
The one thing she’s heard from voters, Arowood said, is that they want customer service. People want better treatment and dignity, said Arowood, who pledged to only serve two terms.
Voters want someone who has been a strong Republican for years, and they want someone with more business experience, as opposed to political experience, Arowood said.
Cole cited his 26 years in the office, with 16 as clerk. He said his office has been run in a cost-efficient way, and office upgrades have included customer-friendly upgrades.
Like Shelton, Cole also became a Republican after the 2014 election. During the April 3 GOP forum, he said the Democratic Party has changed dramatically, and he has always been pro-life, pro-Israel, and pro-Second Amendment.
“The local (Republican) party has been wonderful,” Cole said. “I took my oath, and I’m a Republican.”
In the race for trustee, Copeland said she has been the 911 director for 18 years. She collects and manages all 911 funds, is experienced in project management, and has built and maintained GIS (geographic information systems) mapping systems, Copeland said.
Burton said he has spent the last 20 years as a pharmaceutical distribution manager, where he has led employees and managed a sales budget. As mayor, he’s helped cut Clinton’s debt in half, Burton said.
Gillenwaters, who has also served on the Anderson County School Board, said he has a long history of being a good steward with county money, and he is the only candidate with elected county government experience.
More information will be added as it becomes available.