published Saturday, July 17th, 2010

Council, election commissioner clash over mailer


by Cliff Hightower

City Councilwoman Carol Berz said she is disgusted by a Hamilton County election commissioner who sent out a mailer with her photo and name attached to it, saying she voted to raise property taxes during a recession.

Brandon Lewis, election commissioner and founder of the website www.stopthetaxincrease.org, said Wednesday he spent about $700 of his own money to send out about 1,600 of the mailers to registered voters in District 6, the district Dr. Berz represents.

The mailers started arriving at voter’s homes across Brainerd this week.

Dr. Berz said Mr. Lewis “has crossed the line as far as ethics.”

  • photo
    Contributed photo A flyer being mailed in the Chattanooga area critical of Carol Berz

“It’s unclear to me if Mr. Lewis is in violation of campaign finance law or election commission rules. That’s for others to decide,” she said.

Mr. Lewis said that, as far as he knows, the law says he cannot be a campaign manager or treasurer.

“There’s no laws on how you can oppose a City Council vote,” he said.

The mailer has a photo of Dr. Berz on one side with a disclaimer at the bottom saying, “Paid for by Stop the Tax Increase, not sent (obviously) from Carol Berz.” The other side of the mailer says, “I just voted to increase your property taxes by 19 percent during a recession.”

The mailer also says Dr. Berz voted to increase city fees, stormwater fees and “annexation in areas we can’t afford.”

Mr. Lewis said he saw no problems with alerting people about what an elected official voted on.

“There’s a lot of folks who will be impacted by this tax increase,” he said.

WHAT THE LAW SAYS

Charlotte Mullis-Morgan, Hamilton County elections administrator, said this week that the law does not prohibit Mr. Lewis from using his freedom of speech.

“There is no problem with Brandon Lewis doing this,” she said.

Blake Fontenay, spokesman for the Tennessee Division of Elections, reiterated that the law only restricts election commissioners from being campaign managers or treasurers.

WHAT THE CODE SAYS

Tennessee Code Annotated does not restrict an election commissioner from sending out political literature. What the code restricts is:

“No member of a county election commission who is appointed to the commission after January 1, 2009, shall be the campaign manager or treasurer of any candidate’s political campaign in a local, state or federal election during the commissioner’s term of office. A violation of this subdivision (a)(2) subjects the member to immediate removal from office by a majority vote of the state election commission. Nothing in this subdivision (a)(2) shall be construed to prohibit a member of the county election commission from providing uncompensated advice on a one-on-one basis to a candidate or party officer, nor shall it prohibit providing a financial contribution to a candidate or party organization.”

Source: Tennessee Code Annotated

Questions also arose about whether Mr. Lewis needed to register his group, Stop the Tax Increase, as a political action committee and whether he needed to disclose contributions.

Drew Rawlins, executive director of the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, said he doesn’t think Mr. Lewis needed to register.

“It does not appear they would need to register as a PAC because they aren’t supporting a political campaign,” he said. “It’s their First Amendment right.”

LOCAL REACTION

Councilwoman Pam Ladd rallied to her colleague, saying that whether the mailer was legal or not, it was dishonest. She said the disclaimer is not on the same side as the voting information and, as an election commissioner, Mr. Lewis has “biased” the next election.

“I think it’s one of the most mean-spirited projects I’ve seen in politics,” she said. “Perhaps it’s not illegal, but it’s unethical.”

She said it’s wrong that Mr. Lewis is attacking Dr. Berz when it’s not an election year and after the council voted. It’s also wrong that only one person on the council was targeted, she said.

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said he and the Hamilton County delegation chose to put Mr. Lewis on the commission. He said he has not heard from anyone about possibly removing Mr. Lewis, but he said he can’t see a reason for taking that step.

“If you can’t restrict him from free speech, I don’t see what he’s violated,” Sen. Watson said. “On what premise? He hasn’t violated any rules, any laws.”

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Opinion: Letters to Editors

Article: Friends bring own ideas to school board contest

Article: Smith remains first in funds

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Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
slr3 said...

This same mailer should be sent out in the districts of the other four Council members who voted for the property tax increase. They are LADD,ROBINSON,RICO and BENSON. We will remember y'all at elaction time. Hopefully , you will be unemployed after the election.

On the other hand , congratulations to the four Council members who voted against the tax increase. They are MURPHY,SCOTT,McGARY and GILBERT. They have our (the taxpayers) interest at heart.

The facts are the facts. To bad BERZ is held accountable for her vote. It was her decision. Don't blame the man who sent the postcards for your actions. Take personal responsibility and tell the taxpayers the reasoning behind your vote in a positive manner. Don't demonize the messanger of the facts.

July 17, 2010 at 7:03 a.m.
crimshaw said...

this is just amazing, the tactics these people that are suppose to represent we the people use.

The proper role of government is to protect equal rights, not provide equal things.

The Founders recognized that the people cannot delegate to their government any power except that which they have the lawful right to exercise themselves.

i know for a fact that berz just flat misrepresents the truth in most matters on a daily basis. i have contacted berz to set an appointment for a meeting with her. this was in regards to the budget, berz stated i doesn't have the time. in requesting information to acquire the full city budget, berz refered me to beeland. i don't want to talk to a media guy that's just gona give you the run around and also misrepresent the truth.

i expressed my concern about the projected budget and berz stated to me not to be concerned in a time line for the vote because like the year past the budget didn't get passed till november 09'. she said there would be plenty of time to work on the budget. to cut out all the wastefull projections littlefield had created, is what we were concerned about. berz just blew me off. i came to find out berz was the chair for the budget committee and before the first reading she sounded very very eager to get this vote going and hastened to push for the first reading. these council persons do not represent the people. like this article all they send are sub liminal messages so the uninformed believe their crap.

The most promising method of securing a virtuous people is to elect virtuous leaders."Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its... virtue, and who ... will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man." - Samuel Adams

what is it with these people? is this what our gevernment has come to? re-call the littlefield re-call the council re-call the city law firm people if we don't take to the streets and show these people who is reall the power and in charge were screwed.

thank you for your time.
berz, maybe, like with your decisions on the council you should check your facts before you jump on we the people.

July 17, 2010 at 2:41 p.m.
temp_employee said...

Cheers to Brandon Lewis!

July 17, 2010 at 5:16 p.m.
Oz said...

Is Dr. Berz ashamed of her voting record?

July 17, 2010 at 6:54 p.m.
notgriscom said...

I agree with temp_employee: Cheers to Brandon Lewis! As Oz says, is Dr. Berz ashamed of this vote? Truth hurts don't it baby?

July 18, 2010 at 6:21 a.m.
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