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Two land transactions last month by candidates for Hamilton County mayor demonstrate what happens when a group of business owners enters the political arena.

Politicians from the president to the governor to Chattanooga's city mayor have promised to keep their private interests in a blind trust, so their private interests can take a back seat to the public interest.

Such trusts are typically managed by an independent financial manager who does not inform the owner of what's in the trust or how the assets are handled, so the owner can focus on the interests of the public.

In the campaign for Hamilton County mayor, one of the three candidates has committed to putting business assets aside if elected. One could not be reached this past week, and one said she would not take that step.

"I won't be putting anything in a blind trust," Hamilton County Commission chair Sabrena Smedley, R-Ooltewah, said in a Thursday phone interview.

Smedley owns Sabrena Realty Associates LLC.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County Commission chair Sabrena Smedley announces 2022 mayoral run)

Rather than put her assets in a blind trust, she said, her husband would take over the business.

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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Commissioner Sabrena Smedley watches supporters arrive before announcing her intention to run for Hamilton County mayor on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, at the former Garber Elementary School location.

As the county mayoral campaign continues, both Smedley and Matt Hullander, a Chattanooga Republican, have continued to conduct business.

Most recently, Smedley sold property at the end of December off Interstate 75 in the East Brainerd area to Georgia-based Iron Horse Properties for $575,000. At the same time, Hullander sold a property in the same area to the same buyer for $550,000.

Hullander was unavailable for comment, as he has COVID-19, according to spokesperson Robin Derryberry.

Iron Horse Properties did not respond to requests for comment.

(READ MORE: Hullander, Wamp lay out visions in Hamilton County mayor race)

Smedley said there was no connection between the two transactions.

"Whatever the work done with Matt Hullander was separate from me," Smedley said.

Chattanooga Republican Weston Wamp, a third mayoral candidate who has been involved in venture capital and founded the nonprofit Millennial Debt Foundation, questioned the timing of the two transactions in a Thursday phone interview and said he would put all of his business ties in a blind trust if he were to be elected as mayor.

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Matt Hullander

"There's a massive public trust that's given to the county mayor, the fiscal agent of our county," Wamp said. "It's important there's no appearance of conflict of interest."

(READ MORE: Tennessee's Gov.-elect Bill Lee announces blind trust)

The 2022 primary election will be held May 3.

Candidates must return qualifying petitions to the elections commission by Feb. 17, and they have until Feb. 24 to withdraw from the race.

Both Smedley and Hullander have returned their qualifying petitions, and Wamp has not, according to the Hamilton County Election Commission.

At all levels of politics, relinquishing business ties while pursuing a political bid has been viewed as a method of safeguarding against potential conflicts of interest — or even perceptions of a conflict.

For example, Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly, known for his string of successful businesses such as Southern Honda Powersports and Kelly Subaru, said he would put all of his businesses in blind trusts when he was successfully running for the city office last year. The trust is in the works, one of his business managers told the Times Free Press last month.

Contact Logan Hullinger at lhullinger@timesfreepress.com or 814-319-5158. Follow him on Twitter @LoganHullinger.

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