Mayor Weston Wamp used a political appearance Monday to attack Hamilton County Commissioner David Sharpe as an "obstructionist with a partisan agenda" and to blast Sharpe's main political base — Red Bank — as an area whose leaders "have run it completely into a ditch."
Wamp, a Republican who lives in Lookout Valley, was elected last year and took office in September. Sharpe, a Democrat, was elected in 2018 and re-elected last year.
"For the first time, the County Commission is at risk on any given Wednesday of being completely distracted if not taken over by a single obstructionist with a partisan agenda," Wamp told dozens of Republicans during a meeting of the Pachyderm Club, not mentioning Sharpe by name. "Certainly anybody, one year in, can draw the common sense conclusion that he's got it out for our team. Whatever we propose is not the right answer. He's a champion of public education until we're a champion of public education.
"We had to stave him off early on because he wanted to implement civil service in county government after Republican governor after Republican governor has pushed back against what is effectively the unionization of county employees."
The Republican majority in Hamilton County is not bulletproof, Wamp told attendees, adding the party has lost control of Red Bank.
"Red Bank is an unmitigated disaster," Wamp said. "A lot of good people live there. My grandma is a 1957 homecoming queen at Red Bank High School. Her husband's a starting quarterback. I grew up at Red Bank Baptist. Some of the best people in our community are in Red Bank, Tennessee."
'They took over'
He differentiated traditional liberals, who Wamp said share many of the same values as Republicans, from progressives, who he said advance a "woke" agenda that is out of line with the majority of the Black and Latino communities.
"A small group of people — they took over Red Bank — have run it completely into a ditch," he said. "It just so happens the single obstructionist who we end up dealing with so often is a Red Bank guy politically aligned and ideologically aligned with that bunch."
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Wamp pointed to a 52% property tax increase that city commissioners approved in their most recent budget, which brought rates from $1.10 to $1.67 per $100 of assessed value.
"What you see in Red Bank is kind of a left-wing regime that's taking charge, and they're now beginning to speak into county issues," Wamp added. "Red Bank is not the town that I grew up in and around. It is an example of what happens if conservative leadership goes on autopilot and turns the keys over to progressives."
Red Bank Commissioner Pete Phillips had a stern response to Wamp's remarks, saying Wamp was throwing red meat to his political base.
"All that is is inflammatory rhetoric," Phillips said in a phone call. "First off — define 'woke.' Let's hear that. If you can't define it in a sentence, then shut up about it. He has no right to talk about our little city at all," adding that Wamp has not attended a Red Bank City Commission meeting or a work session.
"Before you start talking about our city, why don't you come over and see us," he said. "See what we're doing."
Phillips noted the increase brought Red Bank's tax rate in line with surrounding communities.
Red Bank Vice Mayor Stefanie Dalton said in an email that it's easy and lazy to throw around words like "progressive," "woke" and "conservative" to try to cater to people. She questioned what specific policies have made Red Bank an "unmitigated disaster."
"Is it the fact that we've voted on policies that lighten the burden for new businesses to open here, with low permit costs, the removal of distance restrictions, and amending our sign ordinance?" she said. "Is it the fact that we've voted to pay all of our employees at fair market value to improve retention and morale? Is it the fact that we continue to fund our police and fire departments with the equipment and resources they need to keep Red Bank safe? Is Mayor Wamp now saying he's anti-business, anti-employee, and anti-police and fire?"
Dalton said she can't be mad about Wamp's comments "because he sounds like a child throwing a tantrum."
"But I am disappointed," she said. "I wish that instead of spewing absurd comments at his fellow elected colleagues in Red Bank, he would attempt in any way to visit our city and sit down with us to find out how we can all work together for a better Hamilton County. It's times like this that I especially miss (former) Mayor Jim Coppinger's leadership."
Red Bank Commissioner Hayes Wilkinson said he and his colleagues are working to make Red Bank better.
"Mayor Wamp seems to be playing into some pretty heavy partisan politics when speaking to the Pachyderm Club," Wilkinson said by email. "I'd like to point out to him that all of my peers on the commission in Red Bank were elected as nonpartisans. We were chosen by a majority of voters to serve Red Bank first, and not push any sort of national agenda. I'll also add that the '50% increase' still leaves our tax rate 33% lower than the city of Chattanooga's.
"That recent increase is a reinvestment into our city to make up for decades of underfunding along with providing competitive pay for our staff and first responders."
'A team player'
Wamp contrasted Sharpe, a Democrat, with the two other Democrats on the board — Commissioner Warren Mackey, of Lake Vista, and Commissioner Greg Beck, of North Brainerd, the latter of whom he called a "team player" and a "dignified member of the community."
"The way that American self-governance works is that the majority does rule, and the minority should have a voice," Wamp said. "The question is: Is the minority trying to have a voice — which I think is represented by Dr. Mackey and Commissioner Beck — or is the minority just trying to be obstructionist to the agenda of the majority?"
In a text, Sharpe said, "Obstructing unethical behavior in the interest of a better county government is not something I will apologize for."
"Frankly, the mayor needs to take a hard look in the mirror — he has obstructed job growth, better government and better schools ever since the moment he took office," he said.