This story was updated April 18, 2018, at 11:59 p.m. with more information and edits.
Hamilton County's District 8 commission race started Wednesday with a Tim Boyd shot at challenger Brent Lambert for working with Democrats, and ended with a left-leaning political group calling out incumbent Boyd for seeking its endorsement.
In a news release Wednesday morning, Boyd said the only sign of East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert's campaign for District 8 commissioner is the work being done by "paid activists" from a nonprofit education group that created a political PAC in late 2017.
Financial disclosure forms show Lambert received about $1,500 from UnifiED Action PAC on March 31 for "staff time for campaign assistance." Boyd said PAC staff knocked on doors in District 8 last week and passed out push cards for Lambert and other candidates in the May 1 primary.
The other candidates included Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, for whom the PAC created a push card.
"Lambert apparently has a real affinity for Democrats," Boyd said in his release. "With UnifiED, we now know he really loves young, paid, liberal Democrats who believe in socio-economic desegregation. I am sure that makes sense to Republican voters."
But Jonas Barriere, UnifiED Action PAC executive director, said Boyd and his team also lobbied for the PAC's endorsement. Barriere produced a phone record Wednesday that showed one of Boyd's campaign strategists calling him for nine minutes on March 22. About one week later, UnifiED released its endorsements for each commission race, including Lambert in District 8.
"UnifiEd Action PAC is committed to ensuring that Hamilton County has the best possible public leadership in order to build an excellent public school system," Barriere said. "Tim Boyd agrees with our mission. That is why he applied for our endorsement and his campaign staff lobbied us for it. We endorsed Mayor Lambert because he is the best leader for District 8."
Barriere added Boyd appeared willing to say or do anything to distract people from his pending felony extortion charge. A Hamilton County grand jury indicted the commissioner earlier this month after Lambert said Boyd threatened to release damaging information about contributions Lambert received in 2017 from local developers.
But Boyd says it's a political setup by Lambert's associates at the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau. Boyd was scheduled to appear Friday in court, but that appearance has since been moved to April 27, the day after early voting ends.
Boyd's campaign strategist, Davis Lundy, said anybody who knows him "would have expected nothing less than me advocating for commissioner Boyd [for the UnifiED endorsement] after spending 13 months trying to help Jonas and his team understand the environment, the demographics and the nature of public opinion in Hamilton County."
Boyd's team and UnifiED have crossed paths before. In June 2017, more than 150 people, including supporters with the UnifiED nonprofit, packed the Hamilton County Commission meeting as a last-ditch effort to increase funding for the county's public schools.
The commission quickly voted 8-1 to approve Coppinger's $691.5 million budget, which did not include a tax increase to fund $24 million in additional needs identified by the Hamilton County Board of Education. Commissioner Boyd cast the dissenting vote, saying he wanted more time to study the budget before approving it.
That August, Coppinger brought a property tax plan to the commission that would put $100 million on the table for Hamilton County school repairs. The commission approved it 8-1, but Boyd again was the dissenting vote. According to news accounts, Boyd said he liked the proposal but didn't have enough time to study it in the eight days between Coppinger's announcement and the call to vote.
Coppinger replied that the eight other commissioners keep in regular contact with him and said this is "not a time for political speeches or rhetoric."
Lambert, meanwhile, challenged a portion of Boyd's Wednesday release that critiqued him for speaking proudly of his ability to work with Democrats at a GOP function Tuesday. "Does Lambert even know that there are seven solid Republicans on the County Commission?" Boyd asked in his release.
Lambert said Boyd insulted two other commissioners who also received endorsements from UnifiED Action PAC and were present at one of the Tuesday events — Sabrena Smedley and Randy Fairbanks — with that statement. "And he didn't even have the sense to know that he did it," Lambert said Wednesday.
Boyd's team said other Republicans disagreed with Lambert's characterization.
"If Mayor Lambert wishes, Commissioner Boyd can give the newspaper the names of 15 to 20 of the most respected Republican women in Hamilton County who will disagree with him," Lundy said.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.
Clarification: Jonas was incorrectly identified as the executive director of UnifiED non-profit, he is the executive director of UnifiED Action PAC.