Campfield questions whether his opponent resides in Senate district

State Sen. Stacey Campfield contends that utility bills indicate Richard Briggs does not really live at the Farragut apartment that Briggs, his Republican primary opponent, has listed as his residence on election documents, potentially violating state law.

Briggs, a heart surgeon and Knox County commissioner, said Campfield’s contention is “absolutely false,” while conceding the utility bills could present a confusing picture. Looking at his water bills during an interview Saturday, Briggs said they do seem low, even considering limited use of water at the apartment.

Campfield said his campaign staff has conducted some research and “either Dr. Briggs and his wife haven’t taken a shower or flushed a toilet in several months or they don’t live at that apartment.” He provided copies of a Knoxville Utilities Board statement saying there was no record of an account at the address and two other documents indicating minimal water usage. The senator said researchers had also been told there was little or no use of water by Briggs’ accounts.

The apartment at 11631 Lanesborough Way is listed as Briggs’ residence in documents including the qualifying petition to get him on the ballot as a candidate for state Senate District 7, the seat now held by Campfield.

If that is not his real residence, Campfield said, Briggs put false information on an election document — a felony under state law. Mark Goins, state election coordinator, said “knowingly” putting false information on a qualifying petition would indeed be a felony.

While not addressing the Knox County situation, Goins said bringing such a claim earlier could have led to a hearing, and if false information was proven, a candidate could have been barred from seeking office. If such a claim were filed against a candidate after winning an election, Goins said it could be used to contest the result.

Campfield said others, whom he wouldn’t identify, had told him Briggs was apparently not living at the apartment and that they were considering “pressing charges” against the doctor. The senator said he instead decided to make the contentions public.

The apartment is within Senate District 7. Briggs said he rented the apartment in August 2012 before he contemplated running for the Senate. Before that, he said he lived in a condominium owned by his wife of 41 years, Stephanie, in River Sound on Fort Loudon Lake and not within the Senate district. The move came with extensive remodeling underway at the lake property, he said.

Briggs said he now lives at the apartment full-time, although he spends one in three nights at St. Mary’s hospital when on call as a physician. His wife spends much of her time during days — and evenings when he is on call — at the lake house.

The apartment has no washer or dryer, he said, and neither he nor his wife take showers there — he takes his either at a gym after daily exercise or at the hospital, and she takes hers at the lake home. But Briggs said he has not spent the night at the lake condo since February, following celebration of his wife’s birthday.

Briggs said Saturday during a phone interview he was sitting in the apartment and that he spends most of his time there. During the interview, Briggs said he found the current monthly bill from First Utility District — about $9 for water and $18 for sewer, totaling $28.81.

He said his wife had all utility bills paid automatically through a bank account and he was not really familiar with them. Briggs later said after talking with his wife and reviewing some bills, the water bills appeared lower than he would have expected.

Briggs also speculated Campfield might be confusing his account at a farm he and his wife own through a trust in Hardin Valley. The farm has two barns but no habitable dwelling, he said, and he had water service shut off there after a leak developed in a pipe.

His only service from KUB, Briggs said, is for natural gas for a water heater and heating in the winter.

“I don’t know what else to say,” Briggs said. “I’m here almost all the time, except when working.”

Told of Briggs’ comments, Campfield said he suspects Briggs “is lying again.”

“If I’m wrong, fine; I’m wrong,” Campfield said. “But KUB said he has no gas meter; it’s not even hooked up and the water bills are zero or insignificant.”