Reading the money trail in Rountree-Kristy contest

Betsy PickleFeature, South Knox

I used to be more of a reader than I am now. Seems like there’s not as much free time in my life – and it’s not because I’m watching TV, I promise.

I do try to keep up with politics, however, especially the people and positions that affect South Knoxville. So, with early voting wrapped up and election day on Tuesday, I thought I’d browse the Knox County Election Commission website. During election season, of course, there’s a lot to read – both on the screen and between the lines.

Case in point: I was looking at the financial disclosures by the two candidates for the Board of Education for District 9, aka South Knox. We have the incumbent, Amber Rountree – a former elementary-school librarian, a doctoral candidate at UT, a wife, and a mother of two young boys; and the challenger, Kristi Kristy, a wife and longtime PTA mom (her triplets graduated from South-Doyle High School in 2017) who set aside her nursing career to raise her kids.

In the latest filing, covering April 1-21, Kristy started with $8,823.14 in her coffers, received $5,950.17 (including 17 cents in interest) and disbursed $550.79, ending with a balance of $14,222.52. Rountree began with $2,306.07, received $2,405 and spent $3,738.39, ending with $972.68.

Kristy spent $86.48 on a meet-and-greet at Love That BBQ and another $464.31 on itemized expenditures. Rountree paid Burns Printing $3,738.39 for printing and mailing the stuff that probably ended up in your recycle bin (not in the trash, I hope).

Kristy reported receiving $100 in unitemized contributions, and Rountree received $405. (If a person donates $100 or less to your campaign during a filing period, you don’t have to report the source.)

Kristy’s itemized contributions for the three-week period totaled $5,850, which could mean she has a lot of friends in South Knoxville supporting her. Or it could mean she has several supporters from outside 37920 who have deep pockets. The form has room for only four donors, so Kristy provided an attachment in order to get all eight donors on the page.

Stacey Schmid, a homemaker and mother of six who lives in 37919, gave the largest amount: $1,500. Her husband is David Dempster Schmid, founder and president of R&S Logistics Inc. Pilot Oil founder James Haslam II and his wife, Natalie, of West Knoxville each donated $1,125.

Omar Jubran, a portfolio manager at Strategic Acquisitions Group, and his wife, Julia Purvis Jubran, a Realtor with Alliance Sotheby’s International Realty, each contributed $500, while Omar’s brother, Nadim Jubran, marketing and business development manager for Capstone Concepts, and his wife, Callie M. Jubran, a “dietician” (sic, per Kristy’s form), put in $450 each. They all live in West Knoxville.

Kristy’s only South Knox contributor was Randy Compton (a businessman and neighbor of Kristy’s campaign treasurer, Angie Bush), who donated $200.

Rountree received a $2,000 contribution from Knox County Education Association – PACE. She also received two in-kind contributions. Stephen Hunley, owner of Fountain City Auction (and publisher of the Knoxville Focus), provided $150 worth of advertising. The Round-Up Restaurant in South Knoxville contributed $200 worth of food to an ice-cream social for Rountree.

Earlier disclosures

Rountree started 2018 with $706.07 in her campaign chest left over from her 2014 challenge to Pam Trainor, an acolyte of former school superintendent Jim McIntyre (and erstwhile friend of Kristy). Between January and the end of March, she received $1,000 total in contributions from six people: $100 each from a South Knoxville artist, a Rockford research forester, a West Knoxville analyst, and a SoKno mom; and $300 each from a Knox County employee in risk management who now lives in SoKno and a West Knoxville retiree.

Kristy jumped into fundraising with a bang on Jan. 24, collecting $1,500 each from her first three donors: the aforementioned David D. Schmid, former school board chair Douglas Harris and wife Carla G. Harris, all of West Knoxville. By the end of the reporting period, March 31, she had garnered 15 more donations from 14 other people.

On Jan. 25, she received $375 each from Jim and Natalie Haslam and four contributions from the same box at the U.S. Post Office on Weisgarber Road: $1,500 each from David and Anne Haslam Colquitt (Gov. Bill Haslam’s daughter) and $250 each from Steve and Ann Haslam Bailey (Jim’s daughter and Bill and Jimmy’s sister).

Raja Jubran, founder and CEO of Denark Construction and vice chair of the UT Board of Trustees (of which Gov. Haslam is chair), contributed $250 that day and $1,250 on March 2. He is the father of Omar and Nadim Jubran.

John Tolsma of Knowledge Launch donated $1,500 on Jan. 29. Rodney Lawler of LawlerWood contributed $500 on Jan. 30, and Jon R. Lawler of Johnson & Galyon tossed in $200 on Feb. 2. They all live in West Knoxville.

On Feb. 12, speech pathologist Stephanie Brang of South Knoxville (another neighbor of Bush) gave $250. On Valentine’s Day, Harry W. Stowers Jr., president of Stowers Machinery Corp. (and a board member of University Health System Inc. along with Jim Haslam) and Elizabeth Stowers each contributed $250, and on Feb. 27 lawyer William Vines gave $150. The latter three live in West Knoxville.

So, what possible interest could all of these West Knoxvillians have in South Knox’s school-board representative? Why would Jim and Natalie Haslam give $3,000 to a SoKno candidate when they contributed only $1,000 to Virginia Babb, the candidate in their own district?

Why would the Haslam clan want to buy an election for a woman who insists she will advocate for more technology in South Knoxville schools, yet uses a No. 2 pencil as the image for her campaign signs and doesn’t even know how email works?

Why would Raja Jubran, who donated $640 to Sen. Bob Corker’s last campaign, contribute $1,500 to a South Knox PTA mom who believes there are too many educators on the school board? Why would his business-savvy sons and daughters-in-law give $1,900 to a woman who can’t even figure out percentages (check out her Facebook page)?

Does Tolsma expect his company, which uses various media to train global clients and turn learning into action, to get a contract bringing some of that technology to Knox County Schools?

How in the world did Kristy – who started out portraying herself to fellow South Knoxvillians as a down-to-earth, family-oriented nonpolitician determined to take the wind out of the sails of the academic incumbent whose kids aren’t even in the school system yet – woo the likes of the Haslams and the Jubrans and the Schmids and the Harrises?

Kristy makes a big deal out of the fact that her children went through three SoKno schools, so she knows what it’s like from a parent’s perspective. In her four years on the board, Rountree has worked hard for the students at all seven elementary schools, the middle school and the high school. She has fought for their facilities, programs and teachers. She has supported the community schools that have been formed here with the help of the Great Schools Partnership.

And she’s done that without the help of the kingmakers and the inner circle of West Knoxville’s elite.

I’ve written extensively about South Knoxville’s transformation over the past few years. We’ve come a long way in marketing ourselves and preserving our individuality. A candidate who takes big bucks from the powermongers of West Knoxville isn’t going to be able to say no when they want something from her.

I’d rather have a school board representative who has proven herself by her actions and her integrity. That is Amber Rountree.

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