Hamilton County mayoral candidate Sabrena Smedley claims small business and government experience

Hamilton County Republican voters next month will select their choice for the next county mayor from among three local entrepreneurs who want to succeed Jim Coppinger as head of Hamilton County's government.

The GOP candidates are Sabrena Smedley, Matt Hullander and Weston Wamp.

(READ MORE: Times Free Press Voter Guide for the 2022 Hamilton County elections)

The only Democrat running for county mayor, Matt Adams, is a 25-year-old contract paralegal who moved to Chattanooga last year after leaving active duty in the U.S. Army. The winner of the May 3 Republican primary election for county mayor will face Adams and two Independent candidates, Richard D. Ford and David Tulis, in the Aug. 4 general election.

The Times Free Press interviewed all three Republican candidates since that is a contested primary.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County mayoral candidate Matt Hullander touts business experience)

(READ MORE: Hamilton County mayoral candidate Weston Wamp cites startup and entrepreneurial experience)

Smedley, 53, the only elected official and only female in the GOP field, has sought to differentiate herself from "the good ol' boys" and claims she is the only candidate with actual experience in county government, not the heir of a political family name.

"I'm running to serve the citizens of Hamilton County, not to make Hamilton County the family business," she said.

Smedley brags that she has both business and government experience and after eight years on the county commission - twice being elected chairwoman - she can bring stability to county government at a time when most of the commission and many of the top leaders in city and county government have or soon will change.

Smedley owns her own real estate agency and a boutique fitness franchise, Pure Barre, with two local stores.

But Smedley didn't start out in real estate or government. After graduating from Ooltewah High School, she initially trained at Chattanooga State to become an ultrasound technician. She worked performing ultrasounds at area hospitals and at a family practice physician's office while her children were young.

In 2004, she got her real estate license and switched careers to become a licensed real estate agent. Within a year and a half of starting to sell houses, Smedley opened her own real estate agency under the Help You Sell Realty franchise for the first five years. In 2010, Smedley went out on her own and became Sabrena Realty. Her current husband, Mark, later joined Sabrena Realty Associates LLC as another agent and is currently running the business while Smedley runs for mayor.

In 2012, Smedley, who was active in governmental affairs and other programs at the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors, was named the group's Realtor of the Year. By then, Smedley was a single mother of three after divorcing her first husband.

"I really like working with people to help them find a home and negotiating to put a deal together," she said.

Sabrena Smedley

Age: 53 Position: Broker and owner of Sabrena Realty Associates LLC in East Brainerd and owner of two Pure Barre franchisee stores. Career: She worked as an ultrasound technician at local hospitals and a doctor's office and got her real estate license in 2004, starting her own real estate agency in 2006. She and her husband, Mark, bought two Pure Barre franchise stores in 2019. She was elected Hamilton County commissioner in 2014 and has twice been elected commission chair. Education: Earned a Master's in Business Administration from Bryan College Personal: She is a mother of three children and a grandmother of two and lives with her husband Mark Smedley in East Brainerd. Campaign website: sabrenaformayor.com

But the commission-based income has not always been dependable "and as a single parent there were times I really struggled to make ends meet," Smedley said.

During those struggles, a civil warrant was issued against then Sabrena Berderich-Turner for unpaid medical debts, including a $141 charge for an unpaid debt to Physicians Care, according to court records. Smedley blamed the delinquency on her ex-husband, who she divorced in 2004.

The warrant was dismissed in 2012.

"I ended up going to court and paying it and it is totally off of me," Smedley said. "I did not even know about it and when I did I made it good immediately."

From those struggles as a single mom and a new real estate agent, Smedley said she learned to rely upon her faith, hard work and commitment to her clients to build her business.

"I've done everything from the ground up," she said. "I didn't walk into a family business and I didn't have a dad in politics."

But Smedley said she has demonstrated an ability to work with other people to get things done.

Indeed, her political career began when she and other East Brainerd residents were upset by then Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield's efforts to annex into the city areas of the unincorporated county like the Hurricane Creek subdivision that Littlefield said enjoyed the benefits of Chattanooga without having to pay any city taxes. The property tax rate in the unincorporated parts of Hamilton County is only about half the rate in Chattanooga.

Smedley was one of the organizers of the grassroots campaign group known as Hamilton County Residents Against Annexation, which raised over $200,000 to fight the city's forced annexation attempts. The group filed 13 lawsuits to block the forced city annexation attempts and the dispute got the attention of the Tennessee Legislature, which ultimately passed a law to limit cities from voting to annex property against the will of the local residents.

After helping lead the annexation fight, Smedley said many people encouraged her to run for the open District 7 seat when then-Commissioner Larry Henry ran for Circuit Court clerk. Running under her maiden name Sabrene Turner at the time, she defeated former Hamilton County school board member and Water & Wastewater Treatment Authority Chairman Phil Smartt and local painting contractor Perry Perkins, who was endorsed by both the Chattanooga Fire Fighters Association and the International Brotherhood of Police Officers.

In 2018, she was re-elected without opposition.

Smedley bought her real estate property in 2007 and three weeks before Jim Coppinger announced he was not going to run for another term as mayor, Smedley sold the East Brainerd home she uses for Sabrena Realty. She continues to lease back the property but she says she will close her agency if elected mayor. Her husband, Mark, who is also a Realtor, would join another real estate firm, she said.

The District 7 Smedley represents on the Hamilton County Commission is one of the fastest growing areas of the county. But since she was elected as a county commissioner in 2014, Smedley said she has not sold new homes for builders or developers in the area to avoid any appearance of conflict over zoning and land issues in the growth parts of Hamilton County.

In 2019, Smedley expanded her business holdings by buying the local franchise of the boutique fitness franchise Pure Barre where she had been a member for four years.

When the previous owner relocated to Dubai, Smedley acquired the two local Pure Barre stores - and three months later the COVID-19 virus hit America and such workout facilities were ordered closed. She used a private Facebook site during the lockdown to serve members and turned to the federal Paycheck Protection Program to help pay for employees idled during the lockdown and to cover other operating losses due to COVID-19.

But Smedley said she doesn't plan to create a blind trust for her business holdings if she is elected.

"Maybe my opponents think they have so many assets that they need to be put them in a blind trust. Sabrena doesn't," she said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @dflessner1.