published Saturday, July 12th, 2014

Hamilton County candidates stressed over unlogged reports

Campaign finance report
Campaign finance report

An apparent communications breakdown at the Hamilton County Election Commission on Thursday caused much consternation for candidates and party leaders. The commission released only a portion of the second-quarter campaign financial disclosure reports to the public after Thursday's deadline.

Republican Party Chairman Tony Sanders said the partial records irked candidates, because many who had filed timely reports appeared to have shirked their duty to voters.

"If a candidate can't file their disclosures on time, what does that say about the candidate? So it can cast a negative light. I can understand why people are upset," Sanders said. "People wonder where their candidates are and whether they are meeting the requirements."

One such candidate was unopposed District 3 Commissioner Marty Haynes, for whom Sanders is campaign treasurer. Haynes' report was not included in the released paperwork Thursday, so it appeared in media that he had failed to disclose his funding.

But in fact, Haynes said he filed his paperwork more than a week before the deadline.

"I don't know how the information didn't get recorded properly. I turned in my report nine days ago," Haynes said.

District 1 Commission candidate Randy Fairbanks also was disappointed.

"They should be able to do better than that," Fairbanks said in an email Friday.

Fairbanks ended the first quarter with $1,493, reports show. He raised $8,885 and spent $5,410, leaving $4,967 on hand.

His write-in opponent, Rhonda Thurman, reported raising $5,147. After spending $1,532, she has $3,614.

Yolanda Echols Mitchell, the Democratic candidate seeking the Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge seat, said Thursday's foul-up sent shock waves through her campaign staff.

"It caused my father and my campaign manager some stress, yes," she said.

Mitchell filed her report Wednesday. She has $1,541 on hand. She started with $3,289, picked up $4,020 and spent $5,768.

Her Republican opponent, incumbent Rob Philyaw, has spent $34,994 this quarter and has $3,873 on hand.

Aside from keeping candidates out of of trouble, Sanders said the records need to be readily available to the public, for democracy's sake.

"These are designed for public information. And if they are not available, is the public really being served?" Sanders said.

On Friday, Election Administrator Kerry Steelman said he released about half of the financial reports candidates had turned in by Thursday. The other half had been received but not yet entered into the election commission's system, he said.

Short staffing contributed to the back-up, he said. The clerk who oversees campaign finance reports was scheduled for other duty on deadline day.

"We have five people out of the office for unavoidable personal leave. In addition, our staff is responsible for conducting nursing home voting at this time to ensure those who are in nursing homes are able to have their voices heard," Steelman said.

There are 13 employees total at the commission, including Steelman.

Hamilton County Election Commission Chairman Mike Walden said Friday he had not been informed about the issue, but that Steelman was responsible for managing day-to-day operations.

NEW LIGHT

The more complete report cast more light on the upcoming Aug. 7 election.

According to Friday's release, incumbent Criminal Court Clerk Gwen Tidwell, a Democrat, still raised the most money of all the county races in the second quarter. But her opponent, Republican state Rep. Vince Dean, has more money on hand.

Tidwell has $34,065 on hand. Dean started with $38,285 last quarter and added $3,650. After spending $4,425, Dean has $37,509.

A glitch with the state's website also inaccurately showed some state primary candidates had not filed their reports.

But in fact, House District 27 candidate Patsy Hazlewood, a Republican, filed Thursday. She raised $92,149 in the second quarter. After spending $11,014, she has $81,134.

Her Republican opponent, Tommy Crangle, has $19,865 in his war chest after the second quarter. Candidate Charlie White has publicly suspended his campaign and endorsed Hazlewood.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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