The Times News obtained a copy of the letter on April 14 and confirmed it was sent by Susan Arnold Ramsey. Out of respect — Ramsey’s mother passed away that day and the visitation and burial were April 16 and 17, respectively — the newspaper delayed contacting Ramsey about the letter.
When the Times News called Ramsey on Friday, she was glad to talk about the letter. Ramsey said she was upset when she heard some who got the letter were afraid it meant their personal information had been somehow compromised and that her words in the letter made even one person think she meant to imply the relief program was in any danger.
KTN: What was your intent in writing that letter?
Ramsey: “To reach the people who are on the tax relief program to assure them that if I am elected, I will, along with the trustees across the state of Tennessee, do anything I can do to encourage the state to keep the program in place. This is clearly a part of the Sullivan County trustee’s job and I obtained this information because my mother had the program and I was reaching out to those people to give them my sincere, heartfelt initiative to say, ‘Hey, I know what a great program this is, and if the need ever arose I would ... just like (longtime incumbent Sullivan County Trustee) Frances (Harrell), do everything I could, along with trustees from across the state of Tennessee, to talk to the state in the event if ever it was questioned, if they ever thought of reducing it or cutting it out. No one was targeted for any reason other than the fact I wanted to reach out to them and let them know I have a passion for this because my mother was helped by it and ... it was purely just me reaching out to them and letting them know I would be there for them.”
KTN: How did you get the list, which is, of course, public information?
Ramsey: “I had to sign a form where I was asking for public record, the same way I would to get the voters’ list. But I had to go through Nashville to get it (the tax relief list), and, of course, through Blountville (the Sullivan County Election Commission) to get the voters’ list. It is public record and I obtained it legally as anyone could, just like getting the voters’ list. I thought the property tax relief list might help me reach some people who are not on the voters’ list.”
KTN: And what was on the list?
Ramsey: “It was only names and addresses. No one’s personal information is on the list. It doesn’t include incomes or any specific details about the recipients.”
KTN: And you recognized these people in particular perhaps have a more intensive relationship with the trustee’s office?
Ramsey: “I understand from my years working for the county that the elderly want to come in and pay their taxes. It’s important to a lot of them to come in personally and walk in the office and pay their taxes themselves. I want to make sure they’re taken care of and assisted in the best way possible. I just have a soft spot for those people who need help with just everyday things the rest of us might take for granted.”
KTN: Did you get much response to the telephone number you listed in the letter?
Ramsey: “I only had 10 calls. Eight were absolutely positive. One was wondering if they had been targeted, somehow. And the other one told me I wouldn’t have anything to do with that program and I didn’t know what I was talking about.”
Harrell is not seeking re-election. Ramsey is among five people running for the job in the Republican Party primary. No Democrats or independents are seeking the job, so the winner of the primary will be unchallenged in the county general election in August. The candidates are: Terri Miller Hurd; Matthew Jerry Johnson; Ramsey; Angela Taylor; and Jack Young.
Early voting continues through Thursday (April 26) at the Sullivan County Election Office in Blountville, the Kingsport Civic Auditorium, and the National Guard Armory in Bristol. Election Day is May 1.