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.
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.
Matt Hullander, 48, has spent most of his career growing the window replacement and home remodeling business his father started more than four decades ago.
After working as a teen bagging groceries at the former Red Food Stores while attending Ooltewah High School, Hullander became a window installer at his father's Hullco Exteriors home remodeling business while attending Chattanooga State. After college, Matt Hullander rose through the ranks of his father's business to become president of Hullco by 2005. Matt Hullander acquired the family-owned business in 2007 shortly before his father, Bill, who was then a county commissioner, was elected county trustee in 2010.
From 2007 when he bought the business until last August when he sold Hullco to West Shore Home, based in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, Matt Hullander expanded the business fivefold from about $4 million in annual sales to more than $20 million in sales, adding an office in Knoxville five years ago and expanding the remodeling business from windows and siding to bathrooms and other remodeling projects.
Hullco was named "Replacement Contractor of the Year" by Replacement Magazine, a "Big 50" inductee by Remodeling Magazine, a "Best Place to Work" in 2020 by Edge magazine, a publication of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and was a two-time "Torch Award" winner for business ethics by the Better Business Bureau.
"I've got the experience to be the CEO to run this entire county," Hullander said during a television debate on WTVC-TV.
Position: Former president and owner of Hullco and investor in several real estate and business ventures. Member of the First Horizon Bank board of advisors.
Career: He joined Hullco in 1994 working in the company's window factory and did a variety of jobs before becoming president of Hullco in 2005 and buying the company from his father in 2007. Hullander sold Hullco last August to West Shore Home, based in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. He has been active in remodeling trade groups.
Education: Graduate of Chattanooga State Community College.
Personal: He and his wife have a daughter and live in Rivermont.
Campaign website: matt4mayor.com
Hullander, who helped grow Hullco consistently through the years with personal TV pitches and commercials, said he is eager now to become a salesman for Hamilton County as mayor and to bring a focus to the mayor's office and Hamilton County's $833 million annual budget.
"As a business owner who has made payroll, grown a team and been successful through multiple recessions, a pandemic and an ever-changing economy, I am well-prepared to lead the county," Hullander said. "I've had hundreds of employees and more importantly, made payroll for over two decades."
But Hullco's payroll practices for some Hullco employees paid on a piece-rate basis were found to be in violation of hourly and overtime requirements for such workers. A 2020 investigation by the wage and hour division of the U.S. Department of Labor said Hullco "was found to be in violation when the firm failed to pay the additional half time due to piece-rate workers," according to a summary of the investigation released under a Freedom of Information Act request. The Department of Labor investigators said installers worked an average of 3 hours of overtime per week without the extra pay due them" and Hullco was ordered to pay back wages of $9,024.56.
Hullco bathroom installer Shannon Tucker said the company continued the illegal pay practices even after the Department of Labor investigation and Tucker sued Hullco last year after Hullander sold the business to West Shore.
In a complaint filed in federal court, attorney Philip Oliphant said Tucker regularly worked in excess of 40 hours per week" without overtime pay. After the labor department investigation ordered overtime pay for piece-rate workers, Tucker alleged in his lawsuit that a Hullco official bragged that the company "came out of this like a bandit." Tucker said he was ordered by Hullco Vice President Bobby Winnie to "figure out how to keep [his timesheet] at 40 hours" and to "make [the timesheet] look pretty."
Hullander ultimately agreed to pay Tucker $17,500 to settle the lawsuit without admitting any unlawful conduct.
Hullander declined to discuss individual employee grievances, but he said in a statement, "There were never any illegal pay practices at Hullco."
Hullander said he tried to build a culture of integrity and fairness at Hulcco and "I think 99% of our employees who worked at Hullco will tell you their favorite thing about working there was the family atmosphere.
"You have disgruntled employees from time to time, but I think I was as fair as any employer in the United States," he said.
When Hullander sold Hullco to West Shore Home last August, employees of Hullco were offered jobs with the new owner. But soon after the sale, West Shore moved out of the Hullco office and warehouse facilities and relocated and consolidated its Chattanooga operations at its current site on Appling Street. Because of its centralized distribution, payroll and other efficiencies of a larger company, West Shore has fewer employees in Chattanooga than Hullco did a year ago.
According to his financial disclosure, Hullander continues to have a number of real estate investment interests through B and M Development, which owns some commercial rental properties in East Brainerd; Scenic Land Co., which owns McLemore Cove and golf course on Lookout Mountain in Walker County, as well as Apison Land Co., V2 Holdings LLC; V2 Strategy LLC; and Chestnut Holdings LLC. Hullander also serves on the local board for First Horizon Bank and is also an investor in the telehealth platform Rhinogram in Chattanooga and an Italian restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona, known as Thompson 105
Hullander said he doesn't plan to put his holdings in a blind trust if he is elected county mayor.
"I don't have to hide anything," Hullander said. "I don't do business with the county in any of my businesses and, if elected, I'll be working full time as mayor."
Hullander said many of his businesses have grown out of the relationships he has built during his career "and I think I can do that as well if I am mayor to help Hamilton County."
Hullander said he learned many valuable business and political lessons from his father Bill, who is the county's top fiscal agent as county trustee. But Matt Hullander insists he will remain independent as mayor. The trustees's office is self-funded through its tax collections and implements the tax policies set by the county mayor and commission.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @dflessner1.