It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
No, no, no. One thing you can say with some authority about politics in East Ridge is that it can be surprising.
Brent Lambert, our mayor of 10 years, up and went and picked up qualifying papers to run for Hamilton County Commission in District 8. That was only supposed to happen if two-term incumbent Tim Boyd challenged Jim Coppinger for the county mayor’s post.
That would, of course, leave the District 8 Commission seat open, and Lambert would have as good a chance as anyone to advance his political career.
I’d been after Lambert for the better part of 18 months to tell me what his political future might hold. For all of those months he never would say what he was going to do. Then, last week everybody in the world starts calling me and telling me that Brent is going to run for commission and that he’s picking up papers on Thursday … Thursday!
As luck would have it, Lambert was taking part in the Grand Opening of the city’s new fire hall. I had my chance after the ceremony to talk with the mayor and ask him one-on-one if he was indeed going that very day to pick up papers with the intent of challenging Boyd?
He confirmed it!
I told him how disappointed I was that he would not return for a third term to continue the “renaissance” of East Ridge, as he so fondly refers to the powerful forces of economic development that are reshaping our city. With Lambert gone, who is going to take over and move this city forward?
After all, Lambert is a known entity. I disagree often with Lambert, but I think he’s a smart man who is capable of balancing the competing interests in our city of those who want to exploit East Ridge for its commercial potential and those who actually live here.
I recalled when Lambert opposed Boyd for the Republican nomination for the commission in 2014, finishing a distant third to Boyd and former Commissioner Curtis Adams. I went to the Hamilton County Election Commission’s Website to get some data.
That’s when I began digging through financial disclosure statements of Lambert and some of the other political players, which is a matter of public record. What I found was interesting … that’s at least one word for it.
On Lambert’s financial disclosure dated July 17, 2017, I found contributions of $1,000 each from Matt Wood, Ethan Wood, John Healy, Emerson Russell and Terry Watts. The Wood brothers and Healy are the guys that brought you the Bass Pro Shop and are continuing to build out Jordan Crossing.
These contributions were dated June 14, 2017. That’s 31 months after Lambert was elected to his second term as mayor of East Ridge. What’s interesting is that it was 12 days after Lambert and the East Ridge City Council had a special called meeting to nail down the construction costs for the reconfiguration of Exit 1. With Lambert leading the meeting, the council agreed to move forward with a $2.5 million bond issue to in part finance the $7 million project, deemed essential to the success of Jordan Crossing.
According to the financial disclosure statement, Lambert turned around with that five grand and paid down a $9,100 campaign loan that he floated to himself in 2014.
In the 2014 election cycle there was no listed contributions from the Wood brothers or Healy on any of Lambert’s financial disclosure statements.
This is all perfectly legal, folks.
Lambert wasn’t the only East Ridge politician to benefit from the deep pockets of the developers. No sir.
Both Brian Williams and Esther Helton received campaign contributions from the Wood Brothers and Healy. Granted, not as much money and it was during election season.
The Wood brothers and Healy tiptoed in with Helton, each of them giving $150 in September 2016. Wolftever Managment, a firm associated with the men, dropped another $500 in her coffers in early October.
The Williams campaign was the beneficiary of $600 from the same men in August 2016 as the election loomed. Wolftever Management chipped in an additional $500 three weeks before the election, records show.
I want to emphasize something here: I’m not accusing anybody of anything illegal. It’s interesting to connect the dots. As one political insider told me recently, contributing to a campaign just buys one access.
Let me end with this: I overheard Denny Manning in the hallway of Fire Station No. 2 during the Grand Opening ceremony tell Ann Pruitt that he needed her support because, “I’m running again. I’m running.”
If Denny runs he will win. That may be the real reason Lambert wants nothing to do with a third term as mayor of East Ridge.