Questions, concerns raised about ethics in Gatlinburg city commission race

GATLINBURG (WATE) – Nearly six months after deadly wildfires, people in Gatlinburg will go to the polls on Tuesday. It’s their first chance to vote since the devastation that rocked their town.

One of the candidates running for city commission hopes voters will see the election as a referendum of sorts on the city’s response to the crisis. Former Mayor George Hawkins is challenging incumbent Commissioner Don Smith.

While both have similar stances on issues, there seems to be questions and concerns about how they’re sharing their messages.

There are candidate signs up and down the Parkway in Gatlinburg but the two men running to hold one seat can agree this election cycle is different.

“The fact that we had the wildfires at the end of November last year and it’s going to be a tougher year for commissioners,” said Don Smith.

He currently holds Seat E within the city’s commission. George Hawkins is his opponent. Last week Smith sent out a postcard that’s causing some upheaval, specifically the part which notes that he’s “Fully endorsed by the entire current city commission.”

“And I thought that’s… that’s against the law,” said Hawkins.

He says homeowners have been coming to him with questions.

“It’s really dangerous when you stop and think about it. That something like this can go on, but we’ve got to stop it before it continues,” added Hawkins.

Hawkins says he’s mailed a letter, along with Smith’s postcard, to the district attorney’s office. District Attorney Jimmy Dunn says it’s the first he’s hearing about this specific issue.

“I’ve talked to the city attorney and he tells me that city commissioners do not come under Section 18 of the city charter and that no laws have been violated,” said Smith.

He says the postcard is fair, but there’s one thing he would have changed.

“It didn’t have a disclaimer on it, but we have since put an article or a correction in the paper stating that all the political ads were being paid for by me.”

Both Smith and Hawkins hope to get a more concrete answer and resolve this issue.

“This election is going to be win or loss tomorrow,” said Hawkins.

They have similar goals for Gatlinburg, with a new emergency plan at the top of the list.

“Heal and move forward. I think that’s the best direction to go,” said Smith.

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