Approximately 3,000 fliers are on the way to voters in Chattanooga's District 2, where early voting is set to begin in less than one week.
Backed by a citizen watchdog group called Little Chicago Watch, the mailers feature a 13-year-old mug shot of candidate Jerry Mitchell, taken by the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, superimposed on Mitchell's campaign logo.
"Jerry Mitchell's drinking is not a big deal to us, but his refusal to comply with law enforcement testing to validate innocence or guilt demonstrates poor character," the mailer reads.
Mitchell, a former city Parks and Recreation Department director under both mayors Bob Corker and Jon Kinsey, faces Roger Tuder and Priscilla Simmons for the seat being vacated by Councilwoman Sally Robinson. While on vacation in August of 2000, Mitchell was pulled over and cited for driving under the influence.
On Wednesday, Mitchell told Nooga.com he was aware of the flier and admitted to the offense in Sarasota, which occurred during his time as a city employee. Mitchell said he had learned from his mistake and had moved on.
"I was on vacation in Florida, and I made a mistake," Mitchell said. "I paid for that mistake and obviously learned a lot from it."
The woman behind the mailer is April Eidson, founder of Little Chicago Watch. Eidson, who has actively sought to uncover truths pertaining to city government and corruption in recent years, said she became "very concerned" about Mitchell's candidacy upon discovering the offense, and she suggested that Mitchell did not follow city policy, which required he report the offense to a department head within 48 hours.
"We make no secrets about what we do," Eidson said. "But it's our rights, and this is public record. I'm sure people would say that [we're] mean or whatever, but the fact is, we're going to put these people in control of a $220 million budget. We want to know who they are. No one is sacred."
City code states that any city employee arrested for a crime other than a "minor traffic offense" report it to a department head within 48 hours. When asked, Mitchell did not say if he followed city policy when he was cited 13 years ago.
"Again, it was 13 years ago," he said. "I'm not going to remember the sequence of things. It was in Florida, and I took care of it in Florida."
Eidson said she "could care less" about Mitchell's record but rather had taken issue with the possibility that he did not adhere to policy.
"We don't care if he drinks; we don't care about his arrest. We care that when he was the department head for the city of Chattanooga, all city employees are required to report their arrests and let the City Council advise," she said.
But Eidson's flier does more than feature Mitchell's past; it also attempts to link the candidate to corrupt civic leaders in Chattanooga's history. The mailer says Mitchell's campaign manager is the granddaughter of former ousted state Sen. Ward Crutchfield and that "members of the Crutchfield family are helping Mitchell get elected."
The mailer also makes no mention of the fact that Eidson, a District 2 resident, contributed $100 to Tuder's campaign last November.
Eidson declined to tell Nooga.com how much she additionally spent to target Mitchell, only hinting that total costs were less than $1,500.
"There's my personal life, and then there's my watch life," she said. "And my watch life group is in possession of this information. It's been around; we're not the first ones to possess it."
Eidson added that she did not think it was an issue that she had supported Tuder's campaign while simultaneously targeting his opponent.
"Me throwing in between $50 and $100 doesn't change the mug shot," she said.
Tuder said that Eidson never contacted him about the mailer and added that upon receiving an email tipping him off about Eidson's plans, he replied to say he wasn't interested in assisting to make an issue out of his opponent's past.
"I'm not going to be an advocate for this kind of thing," Tuder said. "I won't get into these kinds of things. I don't think we ought to get into that in Chattanooga. You can be very clear on this—my campaign is not about personal attacks, period."
Mitchell also sought to address the issue before the flier landed in mailboxes, presumably this week. In an email to supporters, the candidate apologized and urged voters to keep his campaign message positive in remaining days.
"It was a mistake on my part," he said. "I pled no contest to the charge of driving under the influence and paid the price. I am not proud of this but have learned so much from it over the years, and it helped to make my faith stronger. I wanted you to hear it from me first and apologize for my mistake."
Along with Mitchell and Tuder, Priscilla Simmons, a former employee in the city Finance Department, is a candidate in the District 2 race.
Early voting begins Feb. 13.
Municipal elections are March 5.