By Brad Hicks
Shocked. Overwhelmed. Joy.
These are three of the words Teresa Kinsler used to describe her reaction to the results of the Aug. 4 county general election which have allowed Kinsler, Unicoi County’s interim assessor of property heading into the election, to remove the interim label from her title.
“I’m so happy that the people had come out and had supported me so much in the election,” she said. “I was just thrilled.”
Kinsler was the overwhelming winner of the write-in only race for the county’s assessor of property, receiving 1,533 votes, more than half of the 2,323 total votes cast in the contest, according to unofficial results.
Three others vied for the office. Realtor Alan “Rocky” McInturff was the runner-up, with 353 votes cast in his favor. Candidates Richard Seward and John Day received 213 votes and 139 votes, respectively.
Kinsler had served as the interim assessor of property since March, but she was no stranger to the office prior to assuming this role. Kinsler has worked in the Unicoi County Assessor of Property office for the past seven years, completing training including Basic Mapping, Advanced GIS Mapping and Assessment Law along the way.
Kinsler also said she is pleased with the confidence the public has shown in her ability to continue to head the department. She said she has worked over the years to help those entering the property assessor’s office.
“I’ve always been taught that, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ and I think that’s where this has paid off in the end,” Kinsler said.
As for matters on the horizon, Kinsler said the county is in the middle of the reappraisal process and the property assessor’s office will look to stay on track with the reappraisal. She also said the office is also preparing for the upcoming fiscal year with the goal of generating as much money for the county as possible.
The race for Unicoi County Assessor of Property was unique in that the names of the four candidates vying for the post did not appear on the general election ballot. Instead, the office was decided by a write-in vote in which voters were required to manually enter the name of their candidate of choice on the voting machine’s keypad.
The race for assessor became a write-in only contest after the Unicoi County Republican Party Executive Committee on May 28 opted not to appoint a candidate for the Aug. 4 ballot.
The need to appoint a candidate for the August ballot was created after Margaret Seward, who died the morning of the March 1 primary, won the race for assessor of property in the county primary. This created a vacancy that the Executive Committee could have filled had it opted to do so.
Wayne Peterson, another candidate on the primary ballot in the assessor’s race, died on Feb. 16. McInturff was the third candidate on the primary ballot.
Peterson was appointed by the Unicoi County Commission to serve as assessor of property in April 2015 following the retirement of previous assessor Patsy Bennett. Following his death, the Commission appointed Kinsler as the interim assessor of property.
In anticipation of misspellings and to provide some leeway, the Unicoi County Election Commission approved a list of acceptable candidate name entries prior to the election. The commission’s Counting Board, which tallied the individual write-in votes on Election Day, also examined names not on the pre-approved list to determine whether a vote should count for one of the four candidates.
“There were quite a few variations,” said Unicoi County Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey. “Anything they came across that had not been pre-approved, if they did accept it as, ‘Yes, we believe this is close enough to count it,’ they actually created a list, so every time they counted something they had not previously approved they wrote it down under the candidate’s name so there’s a documentation of all the acceptable spellings that we accepted for this candidate.”
Bailey said while the process was “slow and steady,” the results from each voting machine were tallied twice to ensure accuracy. Polls closed at 8 p.m. on Election Day, and the results of the property assessor race were released around 10:45 p.m. Still, Bailey said this is sooner than anticipated, attributing the quicker-than-expected release of the results to a low Election Day voter turnout.
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Two seats representing the county’s 2nd District on the Unicoi County Board of Education and an unexpired 3rd District seat on the school board were also decided in Thursday’s election, and two of these three seats will be filled by new members.
Current Board of Education Chairman Tyler Engle was reelected and will be joined in representing the county’s 2nd District on the panel by retired educator Glenn E. Fisher.
Fisher led all candidates seeking one of the two 2nd District seats up for grabs, receiving 562 of the 1,733 votes cast in the race. Engle received 398 votes, according to unofficial results.
The others vying to represent the county’s 2nd District on the school board included incumbent Lisa White, who received 340 votes, Sue Jean Wilson, who received 282 votes, and Shane O’Hare, who received 144 votes.
“I’m just looking forward to continuing our work as a school board and working together to better the lives of the children of Unicoi County,” Engle said, adding that his appreciation of voters in the 2nd District “goes without saying.”
This will mark Fisher’s first term on the Unicoi County Board of Education, but he worked as a teacher for 32 years, an administrator for four years, and as a coach for 37 years in the Unicoi County Schools system, serving as the head coach of the Unicoi County High School girls’ basketball team for 30 years.
“I certainly appreciate all those people who voted for me, and I look forward to serving on the Board of Education and hope that I will make decisions that please the people of this district and all of Unicoi County,” Fisher said.
Fisher added he believes his experience in education will benefit the county.
“I have a perspective that includes a lot of experience in several aspects of the school system,” he said. “I think that will be an important thing and maybe help me look at it in a different way.”
Voters in the 3rd District elected Steve Scott, a longtime member of the Board of Education, to represent the district by filling an unexpired term on the board.
The unexpired term is the result of the November 2014 death of Dwight Bennett, who was elected to the Board of Education in August of that year.
Scott, who served a 12-year stint on the school board from 1998 to 2010, received 531 of the 928 votes cast in the race. Opponent Ruth Gaines, who was appointed to the school board in January 2015 by the Unicoi County Commission to fill the seat held by Bennett until the next general election, received 382 votes, according to unofficial results.
Scott could not be reached for comment prior to The Erwin Record’s press deadline.
Engle said he feels Fisher’s prior experience in education will translate well as a member of the Unicoi County Board of Education, and Scott’s experience serving on the panel will also be of great benefit.
“I think we’re headed for great things with the school board,” Engle said.
The Aug. 4 election was also a state primary, and the race to represent the state’s 4th District in the Tennessee House of Representatives, Unicoi County native Tim Lingerfelt won his home county but fell to incumbent John B. Holsclaw Jr.
The 4th District includes Unicoi and Carter counties.
Lingerfelt received 1,050 votes in Unicoi County to Holsclaw’s 966, but Holsclaw received nearly 2,000 votes in Carter County to Lingerfelt’s approximately 430 there, netting Holsclaw another two-year term as he will be unopposed on the November ballot.
Election Day voter turnout was reportedly light throughout the region. The total Election Day votes cast in Unicoi County was 1,026, lower than the 1,694 absentee and early votes.
The 2,720 votes cast in Unicoi County during the August election represents around 25 percent of the 10,848 Unicoi Countians registered to vote.
The Unicoi County Election Commission is set to meet on Aug. 22 to certify the results of the Aug. 4 election.