UPDATE: Jonathan Mason responds to Marty Haynes as tensions grow
UPDATE: A mailer sent to thousands of homes in District 30 by House of Representatives candidate Jonathan Mason is causing a stir.
The mailer says Mason's opponent, Ester Helton, was given a tax break while she was in a relationship with Hamilton County Assessor of Property Marty Haynes.
Haynes held a press conference Monday denying the allegation made in the mailer he said was sent to between 3,000 and 5,000 homes.
"This weekend between 3,000 – 5,000 households in District 30 received a negative attack mailer that says I have used the Assessor of Property’s office for illegal activities- that is an outright lie, plain and simple. I am indignant that Jonathan Mason would attack the great employees in this office in order to score cheap political points for his failing campaign."
Haynes explained that he does not set the tax rate. It is set by the County Commission and the City Councils in Chattanooga.
"I will address the accusations made in the mailer that Jonathan Mason sent this weekend, as has been stated by Bill Lee, candidate for governor, 'these type ads say a lot more about the person sending the ad than the person in the ad.' The subject property has been treated fairly as has all other property in Hamilton County to state otherwise is a blatant lie. The fair market value for this property in January 2017 was $467,000. In April of this year the property sold for $345,000 on the open market," Haynes explained.
Haynes added that he has never changed property values for anyone during his time in office:
"At no time as Assessor of Property have I personally changed any property values for anyone. Nor have I instructed anyone in this office to change a value for a political friend or foe. I cannot stress the point hard enough. We follow a strict set of state statutes and laws. The 2017 Reappraisal was well underway when I took office. We are currently in year two of the 2021 Reappraisal. You have my permission to question my staff if I directed them in any way to change a value. To prevent these types of questions in the future, last spring I made Gary Dawn our director of Quality Control. His function is to ensure that we are above board in all of our values."
He went on to challenge Jonathan Mason to present evidence showing the allegations are true.
"The truth is they can’t because it does not exist," Haynes added. "I will not stand by and allow Jonathan Mason and his team to malign this office and the great people who work here."
Haynes explained he has contacted an attorney about what he needs to do to protect his office and himself, both personally and professionally.
"I plan to explore every avenue and to the highest extent possible including libel, slander, defamation and any felonious charges. I will be contacting the Comptrollers Office about these unfounded allegations and seeking counsel as to how to proceed. The Comptrollers Office just completed the 2018 audit of my office. There were NO audit findings this year or last year. The Hamilton County Assessor’s Office has never had an audit finding," Haynes said.
Jonathan Mason responded to Marty Haynes Tuesday saying how much you pay in taxes can't be based on who you know.
“If a voter assumes a favor was done, if anyone wants to draw that conclusion, they can make that inference. No one is accusing an employee of the assessor’s office of wrong doing. Mr. Haynes is the one who brought his employees into this, I have no doubt the employees of the office operate under the highest standards. Our campaign has stated facts that anyone can find themselves.
Nothing is more fundamental to our democracy than fairness. Fairness is the foundation on which it stands. The amount of taxes you pay cannot be based on who you know or who you support.
It would be interesting to research if other backers and endorsers of Marty Haynes have received these tax breaks as well.”
Mason's campaign quoted the Times Free Press saying, "Ms. Helton’s assessment was lowered 3% when neighbors around Ms. Helton rose on average of 5.6%."
Channel 3 will keep you updated on this developing story.