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Staff File Photo / Marty Haynes, then a candidate for Hamilton County assessor of property, makes a point during a Kiwanis Club forum in 2016 at the Mountain City Club.

To distance himself from questions of impropriety in Hamilton County's records request response practices, Property Assessor Marty Haynes said, he will fulfill a controversial request himself.

The most recent in a series of controversial or unlawful records request responses from the county involves a citizen asking for communication records of Haynes, three of his current or former employees, and two other county officials.

After the citizen, Dan Rawls, claimed the county attorney's office intentionally "stonewalled" his request to protect Haynes, who is in a contentious battle for re-election, Haynes has decided to fulfill the requests for information from his office independent of the attorneys.

"At no time have I instructed anyone to 'stonewall' this [records] request," Haynes said in an email to the Times Free Press. "To help expedite this request, I instructed the Hamilton County [office of information technology] today to comply with the open records request from Mr. Dan Rawls as quickly as possible to ensure this information is released to the public."

Haynes said that since the request was made to the county attorney, not the assessor's office, he had first stayed out of the process as is protocol. With the skepticism surrounding this and other recent requests to the county attorney, Haynes said, he has to handle this request to defend transparency in the county.

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Photo by Paul Leach / Then-Bradley County Commissioner Dan Rawls talks during a May 16, 2016, conversation about state legislation that proposes to allow utility-based broadband providers to offers services beyond their footprint areas.

"I believe government needs to be open and transparent," Haynes wrote. "This is why, as a County Commissioner, I introduced and passed a resolution for transparency and accountability on [how] the County Commission spent it's discretionary spending. That resolution led to discretionary spending being reported publicly on the County website for the first time."

(READ MORE: Citizen accuses embattled Hamilton County Attorney's Office of 'stonewalling' new records request)

County Attorney Rheubin Taylor defended his office's response to the request during Wednesday's County Commission meeting, saying it had complied with state law and not intentionally blocked any information.

"The information is being accumulated for the request and the requester has been advised of what he needs to do," Taylor added. "That's in the process.

"We are making an effort on our part to do what we can as expeditiously as possible," he said.

According to Rawls, the county continues to block public information.

"We were hoping county leadership, including county attorneys, were honorable and trustworthy given recent issues," Rawls wrote. "It appears this is not the case and [county officials] are working to thwart the law and hide information from the public."

Rawls is the second citizen, including an alleged misconduct victim of former Hamilton County Sheriff's Office Deputy Daniel Wilkey, to lodge a complaint against the county attorney for records handling this month, following reports of the Times Free Press' own problems with records requests submitted to the office being unfulfilled.

The Times Free Press is still seeking records requested in August 2019.

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

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