By LISA WHALEY
General Manager & Editor
With Election Day less than a week away, the Town of Jonesborough race continues to heat up while five contenders battle it out for three spots.
“I’m cautiously optimistic because I’ve had a lot of people express their support,” said current Alderman Terry Countermine, who is running for re-election on the town board.
Fellow incumbent Alderman Adam Dickson and former alderman Jerome Fitzgerald will vie with Countermine for the two alderman seats now up for grabs.
“What worries me is a lot of people can go into a booth and they don’t have a clue about the candidates and just pick a name,” Countermine continued, stressing the importance of voters knowing all they can about who they are checking on the ballot box. “I love our democracy, but that part of our democracy is a challenge.”
The challenge has been especially apparent this election, one of what he sees as the most contentious he has seen in his 16 years on the board.
Fellow candidate Dickson agrees.
“In the past few weeks, we’ve seen just this new ugly standard of negativity coming out,” Dickson said, who has served one four-year term so far. “We want to keep the positive things going in our town. Hopefully, the votes will turn out in our favor to keep this positive trend alive.”
In the race for mayor, pitting incumbent Kelly Wolfe against challenger Charlie Moore, what began as a somewhat respectful face off at the 2016 Town of Jonesborough Election Forum on Oct. 20, has rapidly escalated into a campaign filled with challenging campaign ads, billboards, phone calls, news articles and fliers.
“I don’t like anybody using the term ‘negative’ if it’s factual,” Moore said, who stressed, however, that he was not responsible for much of the campaign material that has been produced by former Unicoi Co. Sheriff Kent Harris and his newly created political action committee titled “Citizens for Better Government of Washington County.”
Still, he said, just because he didn’t produce it doesn’t mean he doesn’t agree with it, and cites everything from water quality and taxes to conflict of interest and misuse of power in his claims.
“It’s kind of like shooting fish in a barrel,” Moore said. “People are very dissatisfied with our town board. And there is a lot to complain about.”
As for the charge that he was insulting the intelligence of town residents with his claims, he said, “if they are insulted by the facts, they really have a problem.”
“I feel really good about our chances,” Moore said. “We’re hoping for the best.”
Wolfe too is hopeful for the 2016 election results, but admitted he has not exactly relished the process.
“It has certainly not been an enjoyable election as it pertains to the ugly and sometimes crazy attacks of Mr. Moore and his supporters have seen fit to make on both me and the town,” Wolfe said.
Still, he said, “I think the good Lord places you in situations for reasons that may or may not be evident to you at the time, but becomes more clear in the long run.
“And having prayed about this decision to run for office yet again, I made a decision at that point when I said that prayer to accept whatever God sent my way during that process.”
He said he still believes in the town and, more importantly, the people within it.
“No matter the circumstance, no matter the time of the year, I have never been disappointed with the quality of the people of Jonesborough and their inherent sense of right or wrong,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe still admits, however, to feeling the burn of recent slurs he attributes to Moore and his backers, especially recent fliers and ads charging the mayor with possible misconduct in a 2014 Jonesborough live training fire, where a house Wolfe owned was donated to the town for the exercise.
The ad, paid for by Harris and his PAC, implied Wolfe had used the fire as a way to get rid of unwanted property at the town’s expense.
In this case, Wolfe isn’t the only one to feel the burn. Jonesborough Fire Chief Phil Fritts has come forward to address the charges, saying campaign ads are one thing, but ads that indirectly malign the actions of his firefighters are something else.
“My first reaction was, why two years later if someone had a question?” Fritts said.
His second response? “It sort of disgusted me. I don’t think it’s fair to (include) the fire department in a political flier.”
Fritts, who stressed he does not advocate one candidate over another, said the house fire was approved by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and that was required to meet specific criteria.
The donation, which not only provided the firemen in training with a large building in which to learn, was also prepped for the department by its owner before the exercise.
“You can’t have shingles, plastic, asbestos…,” Fritts said. “They did all that for us.”
Fritts added that such exercises are done across the state and nation to allow firefighters to learn in a controlled environment, and that at no time has he ever been asked by any mayor or aldermen, past or present for any special treatment.
“I don’t work for the mayor,” he said. “I work for Craig Ford and Bob Browning.”
For Kent Harris, the appearance of any impropriety is enough justification in raising the issue in campaign ads.
Harris, who beat Wolfe in the race for the position of Republican Commiteeman for Washington County and lives in Limestone, said he had talked to a lot of people who believed they had not been treated right by the town and he decided to step in.
“I’ve only met Charlie (Moore) a few times, but I think Jonesborough needs a change,” he said. “Jonesborough is a good town, but it could be a lot better.”
Harris said the campaign is not personal, but this is not the first time Harris and Wolfe have been on opposite sides of the fence on an issue.
“He ran a very negative campaign against several incumbents on the Washington County Commission,” Harris pointed out, citing the Washington County Citizens for Better Government PAC headed by Wolfe that targeted then-commissioner Mark Ferguson for defeat in 2014. “Everything we ran has been based on facts. We’ve tried to list the source of our information. We’ve not been running a negative campaign, unlike Kelly Wolfe when he called Mark Ferguson a clown. We have stuck to the issue.”
Harris added that the fight wasn’t over, and he was determined to bring what he viewed as potential problems to the voters.
“I think some of the national politics have filtered down to our local politics,” Countermine said. “It’s troublesome. I know a lot of what has been put into people’s mailboxes and paper boxes is not true.”
For Jerome Fitzgerald, who is running in a bid to reclaim a seat on the board, this is all part of politics.
“It’s a whirlwind,” Fitzgerald said. “And a person going in should know what to expect. We are in that kind of business.
“But I believe you are judged by your character, by the way you walk. And that’s the way that I live.”