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Candidates stump at GOP club
Ballard, Lowe state their cases at monthly meeting

As Phil Ballard recently made his sales pitch on reasons to elect him Knox County Property Assessor in 2008, Mike Lowe, his Republican Primary opponent, was taking in every word about 30 feet away.

“It’s sorta awkward to have to talk with him sitting there,” Ballard, Knox County Commission from District 8, said during the latter stages of a roughly 15 minute address as featured speaker at Farragut Republican Club’s monthly meeting Thursday, Sept. 13, in Gondolier restaurant.

Lowe, Knox County Trustee since 1994 before the Jan. 31 term limits ruling by the Tennessee Supreme Court, received equal time with the local GOP club — with Ballard in attendance — making his sales pitch at the Thursday, Oct. 11 meeting.

Both men extended kind words about the other but drew sharp lines of distinction.

Emphasizing his experience with insurance claims, Ballard said, “I come with 30 years experience on the private side versus a person with 30 years political experience on the political side. I don’t know how that’s going to turn out. Voters are going to decide that. I don’t think anybody else has 30 years of appraiser experience.”

Noting his work has extended into Georgia, Kentucky and Ohio, Ballard said, “There’s very few that have the diverse background and intensive training that I do.”

Comparing his occupation to the job he seeks, Ballard said, “I started off appraising 14 years. … Lots of times if you have a total fire loss, total water loss, or loss of any type you have to be insured 80 percent of value. And in order to do that you have to go appraise the property. So I have a strong background in that. I’ve got an appraiser, adjuster-type mind.

“I think there’s going to be a clear distinction.”

As for the Trustees’ office he had overseen for 13 years, Lowe said, “I think we probably have one of the most progressive offices in county government,” adding the office “has continually scored between 97 and 98 percent with people that actually contacted our office.

“You’re only as good as the people you have around you.”

Among the accomplishments Lowe cited: “We settled a lawsuit that had been going on between six and seven years between the city and county. Settling that lawsuit, we turned over a million dollars back to Knox County Schools system, and over a quarter of a million dollars annually back to the health department.

“We opened five satellite operations that now generate almost $25 million on an annual basis on tax collections,” Lowe added. “Eighty percent of our walk-in traffic now comes through our satellite operations. And we’re getting ready to open another satellite office in Cedar Bluff.

“And we’ve got a brand new computer system, state-of-the-art, that we saved over $3 million for Knox County … .”

Lowe also said the Trustees office under his leadership was “the first one in Knox County to have a Web site that you could actually do online payments and everything through our office,” plus an online “aerial view of your property. We were the first to do that. We always try and think out of the box.”

Reputation-wise, Ballard said, “What they generally say about me is that I’m firm, but I’m fair. And that is probably the same individual skills that you need [as assessor].

“I had an opportunity to move to Nashville and handle the claims for the state, but I didn’t want to do that,” Ballard added, noting he became a “second litigation specialist” in 1996.

Saying he was recently promoted to regional manager whose East Tennessee territory basically spans from Chattanooga to the Tri-Cities, Ballard said, “I think I have a very diverse business background. … You have to know how to budget.

“This is the best time for me to run. I will retire from my private job.”

Lowe’s reasons to run? “The reason I wanted to be your property assessor is that I thought that we could transform that office into a more state-of-the-art office,” he said.

Considering going “back into home building with my brother,” Lowe said he was approached by supporters encouraged him to stay in public life because he was “proven.”

“I made the decision I was going to transition out of the Trustees’ office after Fred Sisk was appointed Trustee at that time.”

About the property assessor’s office, Lowe said, “There’s not too much about that office that I don’t know. Over the past two months, interacting with employees in that office and a lot of employees who had left that office, we’ve put together a five-point platform that I think can make it one of the most technologically advanced offices in the state.

“There’s a lot of things that we’re doing right now that we could do better,” Lowe added. “One of the things they’ve had big problems with in that office is a lot of the appraisers are not certified appraisers. What we want them to do is go back and get recertified by the State of Tennessee … that’s an absolute imperative that we do that.”

Ballard pointed out that beyond “loved ones, your property is probably the most important thing that you have.”

The Commissioner cited strong backing. “I have the support of John Whitehead [retiring property assessor] and Parkey Strader [state senator], that’s important to me,” he said.

Lowe said, “We’re trying to run a very positive campaign with this. I’m not running against Phil Ballard, I’m running for an office, because I think I am, by far, the most qualified candidate.

“And it’s nothing against Phil, I like Phil, and he seems like a nice person … but I want to do something for the right reasons,” Lowe added. “All the right reasons.”


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