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Write-in option sparks social media discussion

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

Chuck Vest’s name will be the only one on the Nov. 3 ballot for Jonesborough Mayor, but one downtown business owner might receive some votes as a write-in.

Though Vest, the current mayor for the Town of Jonesborough, is running unopposed, some residents, like Jonesborough resident Nathan Gross, plan to write in Eureka Innkeeper Katelyn Yarbrough for Jonesborough Mayor.

“I thought about the people who were in the community and had a vested interest,” Gross said, referring to when he asked for Yarbrough’s permission to write her in. “I have a lot of respect for Katelyn and she was the first person I thought of.”

If Yarbrough were to receive the most votes against the incumbent mayor, however, she wouldn’t be able to accept the role. 

Tennessee Code Annotated 2-7-133 (i) says anyone trying to be elected as a write-in must give notice to the county election commission 50 days before the primary or 50 days before a general election. Yarbrough did not submit her petition to the county election commission.

Gross said he opted for a write-in because he doesn’t agree with the current mayor’s posts on social media regarding Jonesborough.

“I’ve seen this trend where he is promoting the area in a specific light that I feel is unfavorable towards people with a more progressive mindset,” Gross said, “and with some hostility towards that group of people.”

Vest said he thinks the write-in conversation mostly started as a reaction to his conservative political views.

“They don’t like the fact that I said I think local government needs good, conservative leaders,” Vest said. “They don’t like that I support my president.”

Vest has been the Jonesborough Mayor since he was appointed in 2018, when Kelly Wolfe stepped down from the position.

Vest feels that Jonesborough’s strong police department is one reason some have taken issue with him as the mayor.

“The Town of Jonesborough has a successful and an excellent police department,” Vest said. “I guess they don’t like that we operate that ourselves and we don’t need suggestions from outside groups.”

Gross — who has a bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice as well as one in psychology, along with a master’s degree in emergency management and homeland security — said he is not against the police, but is also in support of those who wish to discuss “police standards.”

“In Jonesborough, we do have an excellent group of police officers,” Gross said. “In general, they do a great job. But I think we can still be leaders as far as promoting good police standards.”

Apart from social media, Gross said he had no other problems with Vest as far as town issues were concerned.

Vest added that he supported the voters’ right to opt for a write-in, though he felt that Yarbrough could have put her name on the ballot. 

“People are free to (vote for a write-in) all they want,” Vest said. “If she had wanted to serve the people, she could have easily run for alderman. She could have run for mayor. Why we’re giving someone attention who had the opportunity to run, I’m not quite sure.”

Yarbrough is the co-owner and operator of the Eureka Inn along with her husband, Blake. She is also the chairwoman of the New Generation Freedom Fighters and has served on Jonesborough’s Main Street Board, the advisory board for the McKinney Center Diversity and Equity Committee, along with other community boards and organizations.

Yarbrough considered running in the ongoing Jonesborough Alderman race, but yielded as incumbent Terry Countermine ran for reelection.

“I was going to run for alderman only because I thought Terry was going to retire,” Yarbrough said. “But Terry is fired up and wants to run, so I stepped aside. I took a candidate training course and everything so I was fully prepared to get my petition in by the deadline.”

Though she wouldn’t be able to accept the role as mayor, she feels the write-in conversation reveals there are views that aren’t solely conservative in Jonesborough.

“The polarization that always comes with big election years is really sinking in here in Jonesborough,” Yarbrough said. “(The Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Alderman) is a nonpartisan representation of our town … I think it shines a light that there is a portion of the Jonesborough population that feels we are not being represented by those that are in power.”

As for social media, Yarbrough feels that anyone in the mayor’s position should refrain from political posts on a personal account. She suggested Jonesborough establish a Jonesborough Mayor Facebook that can offer the “mayor’s voice for the town” on social media.

“If I were serving in a nonpartisan seat, I definitely would scale things back,” Yarbrough said. “I wouldn’t necessarily be posting on my own private Facebook anything that would cause someone to maybe feel ostracized or othered.”