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Current Property Assessor Marty Haynes (left) and Hamilton County Commissioner Randy Fairbanks (right) are locked in a heated and deeply personal campaign for the March property assessor primary election. / Composite from file photo

Incumbent Property Assessor Marty Haynes is under scrutiny again by opponent Randy Fairbanks as a new campaign mailer suggests Haynes, who does not own property, is unqualified to maintain his office.

Fairbanks, Hamilton County Commission chairman and Republican candidate for property assessor, lodged concerns over Haynes' lack of property in a mailer sent to 20,000 Hamilton County addresses early this week, Fairbanks' second such public attack on Haynes.

The newest mailer, which Fairbanks says cost his campaign $12,000, suggests Haynes is not qualified to determine property values since he is not a property owner.

"Do you feel the assessor of property for Hamilton County should also be a property owner?" the mailer asks, citing a poll run by Fairbanks in September. "If you do, you're not alone. 94.8% of fellow Hamilton County taxpayers agreed with you in a voter opinion poll."

The survey done by political polling group MultiQuest got more than 400 responses from likely Republican voters in Hamilton County. They provide a scientifically significant sample of voters likely to participate in next week's Republican primary for assessor, according to Middle Tennessee State University professor of political science and polling expert Kent Syler.

"The sample size for what's in question and the wording of these questions is completely valid," Syler said of the poll. "It's not a push-poll because it offers fairly worded questions and they are consistent throughout. — It's very standard for a candidate to do this kind of polling before they run for office, and this one seems completely above board."

(Read more: https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2020/feb/10/fairbanks-accuses-haynes-favoring-political-a/515383/)

Haynes, also a Republican, said the mailer is an unnecessarily personal attack on him and his family.

"I moved into my aging mom's house several years ago when she was struggling with health and we lost my father and I was going through a divorce, living in a rental," Haynes said. "I only don't own property because, after she signed the property over to me, I sold it to pay for her assisted living."

According to Haynes, the house was sold to his youngest son, who was looking for real estate, for roughly $175,000, and the proceeds go toward his mother's living and medical expenses.

"Having an ailing parent is extremely expensive and anyone who's been there or is going through that knows how much it costs, and that's the only reason I'm not a property owner anymore," Haynes said. "I'm proud to be able to support her, but this is deeply personal and not about my qualifications as assessor — and Randy knows my mother and has known this situation. He knows what he's doing with this mailer."

Fairbanks says he sympathizes with Haynes and his mother, and that the mailer was not about Haynes' family.

"I was making a simple point that Marty is not a property owner — and really hasn't been a property owner for many years — that's it," Fairbanks wrote. "Here's how I interpret Marty's long response — and I believe it is how others will see: In order to help qualify Ms. Norma for assistance, she transferred the title to Marty to be the custodian of her home, then he sold it to his son and he used what amounted to her funds to help pay for her medical needs. And while I would have done the very same thing in that situation, that actually shows that Marty was not really the owner of the property in the sense that most people would think."

Haynes added that the mailer and response had actually garnered sympathy for his familial battles.

"Having a parent that you have to take care of is extremely common and anyone my age who's going through this with taking care of Mom and or Dad understands that," Haynes said late Tuesday. "If [Fairbanks] could hear or was reading the phone calls and emails I've gotten today, he'd stop this narrative — everyone has been understanding of what I did for Mom."

Tuesday's mailer, which comes one week before the primary election that will settle the battle between Fairbanks and Haynes, is not the first such move by Fairbanks.

A more aggressive mailer came out earlier this month in which Fairbanks accused Haynes of providing a favorably low property assessment to a golf club of which he is a member and the owner of which is a donor to Haynes.

Haynes denied the allegations and said he hopes by running a less negative campaign than Fairbanks he will be able to maintain trust among constituents.

"I don't run polls or mailers and I've tried to run only on why I belong in office," Haynes said. "I hope people recognize the personal attacks from Randy as exactly what they are."

Who takes the property assessor seat will be decided in the March 3 primary election since no candidate is opposing the Republican nominee.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @sarahgtaylor.

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