JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Washington County Young Republicans (YR) have taken the unusual step of making a local-level election endorsement with their support of 8th District County Commission candidate Freddie Malone.
Malone, an incumbent Republican, faces independent Scott Holly in the Aug. 4 election that will decide one of 15 seats on the county commission. In their written endorsement, the YR executive board describes Malone as “a conservative who has proven his fiscal responsibility and dedication,” while describing Holly as “a self-declared independent with no platform other than tearing his opponent down.”
While two other commission races are contested and include Republicans, YR Chairman Mason Mosier said the Malone-Holly race was the only one the group chose to weigh in on.
“A lot of lies have been told in this race against Freddie Malone, and it’s also super consequential,” Mosier said of the Malone-Holly race.
Mosier referenced a Holly campaign mailer that accuses Malone of casting “the deciding vote” approving a bank loan for the Johnson City Development Authority (JCDA) to buy the John Sevier Center, with Malone’s bank as the lender. The mailer makes several other claims Mosier said are false or misleading.
“When it comes to his Facebook and it comes to a lot of the rhetoric that he uses, it’s still unhinged and dangerous,” Mosier said. “So we need to make sure that we’re electing serious people to the commission, because as we see from the federal government, they are increasingly allocating things back to the states, allocating things back to the commission.”
News Channel 11 spoke to Malone and Holly as well. The two had very different takes on what the commission needs, on the race itself and on each other.
Malone said Holly’s past felony record, including a guilty plea to extortion charges, combined with his campaign approach, makes him untrustworthy and the wrong person to handle the many financial decisions county commissioners make.
“One, the nature of the crimes, but also based on interaction, you can determine I think whether people have changed or not and certainly many of the false allegations that he has leveled at me lead me to believe that this individual hasn’t changed at all,” Malone said. He said he had “heard only vague rumors” about Holly’s past before Holly decided to run for office, then researched it himself.
Holly said Malone’s record shows a person who has conflicts of interest and has approved projects and other county initiatives that don’t guard taxpayers’ money or that benefit insiders, including Hometrust Bank, where Malone is a commercial relationship manager.
“I’m sure the voters and taxpayers of my district are more concerned with current issues than they are with something that happened 20-30 years ago,” Holly said.
“If you want to dig into something, dig into my opponent’s conflicts of interest related to issues he has voted in favor of as a County Commissioner that directly related to his bank.”
Past and present
What “happened 20-30 years ago” include reckless endangerment charges in 1992-93, several additional misdemeanor charges over the next decade, and eventually seven felony extortion charges in Washington County in 2002. Holly served four months on those extortion counts, to which he pleaded guilty.
Holly petitioned to have his voting rights restored in 2019 and that process was completed at the state level in April 2019.
While Malone said he believes Holly’s past record is relevant to his pursuit of a county commission seat, Mosier said the past wasn’t what convinced YR leaders to take the step of endorsing Malone. Rather, he pointed back to Holly’s social media activity and claims stating that Holly did not appear to “be very serious.”
For his part, Holly said some elected county leaders, including Malone, deserve to be called out. Just as he has in a campaign mailer and in Facebook posts, he referred to financial decisions about the Sevier Center and the new Jonesborough school, which he said are unfair to Johnson City taxpayers in particular.
“Conflicts surrounding the John Sevier Center, the beer board and the application for the sale of alcohol at the Appalachian Fair, etc.,” Holly said. “Or what about ‘Scheme 6’ that took $30 million away from the City schools?” he added, referencing the payment method for the new Jonesborough school, which doesn’t include the traditional enrollment-based split of money for city schools.
Malone pointed to Holly’s campaign mailer as an example of lying about Malone’s record. The first section under the headline “No More Conflicts. No More Unfair Taxation,” reads:
“My opponent banker, Freddie Malone, cast the deciding vote for his bank to loan millions funded by the taxpayers for the John Sevier Project. Obvious conflict.”
“He claimed that I cast a deciding vote about the financing of the John Sevier,” Malone said. “That’s just entirely false. I actually recused myself from the discussion on the matter and the vote, and so that’s a good example of an entirely false allegation that would be easily determined to be false.”
Indeed, official minutes from the June 14, 2019 JCDA meeting when the Sevier Center loan was approved show that after HomeTrust’s offer was discussed and a motion to approve it made, “Freddie Malone abstained from the vote.”
News Channel 11 asked Holly about the claim in his mailer and why he made it, given the written proof of Malone’s abstention from that vote. Malone also abstained from an August 2019 JCDA vote finalizing the $4.6 million John Sevier loan document with HomeTrust.
In a written response, Holly sent the minutes from a May 2020 Washington County Commission meeting on a vote to increase the JCDA’s debt limit as it relates to tax increment financing (TIF) projects. Malone did second that motion and it did pass by one vote, 8-7, but it doesn’t relate to the John Sevier loan, which is not TIF-funded.
Holly stuck to his guns on his ads’ claims and those on his Facebook page, including one that says Malone was involved in bringing forward a proposal for beer at the Appalachian Fair. Malone is the chairman of the beer board, which would hear any application, but wouldn’t even vote unless the other members’ votes ended in a tie.
Holly wrote that a conflict of interest exists because the company that applied for a beer garden, Tennessee Hills, has borrowed more than $10 million from HomeTrust Bank.
“When did there become two set of rules,” Holly wrote via email. “One for the rich and powerful and one for the average citizen working to make a living? I want this position to try to make a difference for the average working taxpayers, not to ‘pad’ pockets.”
Malone echoed Mosier’s comments about the large amount of federal money flowing through the county and how important fiscal stewardship of the “generational investments” that can be made will be in the next few years.
“Those investments with the ARPA funds and the opioid settlement, those decisions are going to be key ones I think for the long-term future of our community,” Malone said. “The citizens of Washington County, specifically District 8, have a far better option than a convicted felon to represent them on the Washington County Commission.”
Holly called the YR endorsement part of a “last-ditch effort of a political smear attack.”
“I’ve lived here all my life, my entire life, and the people of Washington County know me,” Holly said. “They know where I came from and what I stand for, and they know what kind of man I am.”
He didn’t call it a last-ditch effort, but Mosier did say his organization is concerned about the race’s outcome, as well as that of the mayor’s race. The YR also endorsed incumbent Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy over independent challenger James Reeves.
“We only have about 6% of the population that’s voted in early voting,” Mosier said. “I think that you could have a very fringe candidate win because of the lack of Washington Countians that are going out to vote.”