Voters deliver bloodbath to county commissioners after dramatic tax increase

Chris Butler
Aug 18, 2014 5:00 AM
Voters deliver bloodbath to county commissioners after dramatic tax increase

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — One might say Fentress County resident David Beaty suffered a wee bit of abuse at the hands of County Executive Frank Smith, merely for complaining about a dramatic increase in property taxes at commission meetings.

There was that one meeting, of course, when Smith publicly called Beaty a “dumbass,” as videotaped evidence confirms.

Then there was the time when Smith ordered guards to force Beaty out of commission chambers after Beaty spoke a little bit over his allotted time at the public comment section of one meeting.

As Tennessee Watchdog documented in 2011, there were other instances of intense dislike between these two men. 

But now it appears Beaty might have the last laugh.

Voters in Fentress County earlier this month unleashed the equivalent of a political bloodbath.

David Beaty

David Beaty

They voted out Smith and all of the commissioners who supported a tax increase to fund a new jail, which some argued wasn’t really needed.

Smith, according to unofficial returns from the Fentress County Elections Office, garnered just 27.8 percent of the vote against opponent Jay Michael Cross, who garnered 67.9 percent.

“I’ve never seen anything like this ever anywhere,” Beaty said.

Beatty was Fentress’ county executive from 1998 to 2002 and ran against Smith in one election.

“This in a way is better than not winning my lawsuit,” he added, referring to his failed attempt last year to sue Smith for forcibly removing him from commission chambers.

The defeat of Smith and most of the commissioners, Beaty said, had everything to do with their raising property taxes from $1.34 to $1.99 for every $100 of assessed value of property.

“We had already committed to move to another county if all these jokers got back in. I guess now I don’t have to put my place up for sale,” said Beaty, a longtime resident of Fentress County.

Smith told Tennessee Watchdog in 2011 that people who complained about higher taxes “squawk and holler” and were new residents “who bitch about it” and “should go back to where they came from.”

On Friday, he said he had no comment on his loss.

“I’m defeated, and I’m happy, and I’m 73-years-old, and I’m going back to the house,” Smith said, adding he refuses to offer any advice to the man who defeated him.

“I plan on having a good time until I die.”

Fentress County Executive Frank Smith

Fentress County Executive Frank Smith

As seen in this video, county residents who attended one meeting reported that commissioners conducted the meeting with the microphones turned off. Subsequently, audience members could not hear what commissioners were either saying or doing.

At another point, a Fentress County sheriff’s deputy, following Smith’s orders, told Beaty he could no longer film meetings.

At another point, anyone who wanted to speak during the public comment phase of each meeting had to have commissioners’ consent in advance.

The county’s current jail, built in 1974, houses 20 inmates.

The new $10 million jail, which residents call the “Taj Mahal Justice Center,” is scheduled to open in a few months and will house 160 inmates.

County officials rely on other jurisdictions to house an additional 80 county inmates.

Smith told Tennessee Watchdog in 2011 that state officials were about to condemn the jail for overcrowding, but state officials said that wasn’t accurate. The jail, they said, still met state certification requirements.

As previously reported, the tax increase caused hardships among many county residents. Fentress is one of the state’s poorest communities.

According to state statistics, the average median household income in Fentress County is about $28,000. Almost 25 percent of the residents live at or below poverty levels, while 33 percent of residents receive food stamps.

A Fentress County deputy orders a man who was filming the meeting to turn off the camera. (photo courtesy of David Beaty)

A Fentress County deputy orders a man who was filming the meeting to turn off the camera. (photo courtesy of David Beaty)

Fentress County resident Kristen Rosecrants, who said she stopped attending commission meetings after commissioners implemented rules to keep her from speaking, said she’s optimistic about the county’s future.

“I’ve seen a lot of people affected by this tax increase,” Rosecrants said. “But I’m looking forward to attending county commission meetings again.”

Smith, who once told Tennessee Watchdog that Beaty “should tuck his butt in and go back to the house,” is on his way back to his own house instead, and Beaty is delighted.

“I’m the happiest man in the whole USA,” Beaty said.

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