A controversial Brentwood church is believed to be importing voters to the city and housing them — sometimes eight to a dwelling — in an attempt to influence the Brentwood City Commission election, which begins today with early voting in Franklin.
Remnant Fellowship, founded in 1999 by diet guru Gwen Shamblin on some principles of her Weigh Down Workshop, could essentially take over the city’s five-member board of commissioners by installing three candidates strongly endorsed by some church members.
Three votes would represent a majority vote on any requests that come before the board, which could include Remnant’s currently tabled rezoning request to hold a K-5 school on its property. The three could also appoint a new Brentwood City Manager and, potentially, a new police chief.
The trio are known as the “Save Brentwood” candidates. Their names, including Remnant Fellowship member Donald Fischer, are featured together on yellow campaign signs throughout Brentwood. The other two candidates are activist Krystal Roark, and 12-year Commission veteran Bob Higgs. Higgs has clashed over the years with the other four current Commission members.
It is expected that Higgs would become the new mayor if the three-for-one scenario plays out in the May 3 general election.
Roark, who has been attending the Fellowship Bible Church off Franklin Road, said she is campaigning with two other candidates because they all have basically the same platforms and same principles with regard to city planning.
Higgs likewise denies any connection to the nondenominational Remnant Fellowship.
The three are featured on a “Save Brentwood” Web site (www.savebrentwood.com) that is licensed to Robie Bass at the Weigh Down Workshop, 308 Seaboard Lane. The Weigh Down Workshop, a weight loss program, was founded by Shamblin.
Shamblin’s book, The Weigh Down Diet has sold millions of copies. The organization has testimonials from persons who say they have lost weight by following God’s word.
One belief of the church is the stern physical disciplining of children. Last May Franklin Police executed search warrants on the Weigh Down Workshop as part of an ongoing investigation into the death of an 8-year-old Atlanta boy whose family belongs to the church.
As of Tuesday afternoon there were several Brentwood addresses zoned single-family with anywhere from four to eight registered voters representing two to four families, according to information from the Williamson County Election Commission.
Election officials also confirmed an unusually large number of address change requests Tuesday that followed interview requests from The City Paper to various homes on the list.
Remnant Fellowship elder Tedd Anger, who spoke Tuesday on behalf of Shamblin, said some perceptions of voter impropriety can be attributed to church members opening up their homes to new residents to ease their transition after moving to town.
In other cases a family will hire nannies or student nurses to care for a family member or have in-laws staying with them, he said.
“I don’t know when opening up your home to a dear brother or a family member became a bad thing,” Anger said. “But, sure, in the Remnant Fellowship there have been times when we have opened up our homes to dear friends and family members on a temporary basis.”
Anger said some members of Save Brentwood, a group that formed to oppose the proposed extension of Mallory Lane, are also members of Remnant Fellowship but added there are numerous members of the group not affiliated with the church.
Church membership is approaching 500 at its local headquarters and 1,100 across the country, Anger said.
Ruling city policy
Should the trio of candidates prevail, they will essentially dictate Brentwood city policy.
“[The Commission] had already afforded another church on the corner a school with 175 students so we basically asked if we could do the same thing,” Anger said. “We asked for a rezoning of our land just to start a small school.
“…They have expressed to us that the plan doesn’t seem sufficient right now and to basically either go back to the drawing board … they basically told us that we could already have a kindergarten with 175 students and that may be the direction that we go in or we may not do anything at all.”
Anger said he personally would like to see new Commission members due to some decisions that he feels “disturb the residential beauty of Brentwood by putting … roads through different developments and connecting dead ends.”
The May 6, 2003, Brentwood City Commission election had a turnout of 4,022 voters, records show. There have been 506 Brentwood residents who registered to vote since the November 2004 presidential election.
Two incumbents, Mayor Anne Dunn and Vice Mayor Joe Sweeney, do not have to run for re-election until 2007.
Incumbents Joe Reagan and Regina Smithson, both longtime Commission members, said at a recent candidates forum that they would not remove City Manager Mike Walker if re-elected.
Candidate questions were allowed from the audience, which included about 15 Remnant Fellowship members and Shamblin.
“As a commissioner for 14 years and, hopefully, a commissioner who will sit for another term, I have not had and do not have and will not have a hidden agenda,” Smithson said.
“You know what you’re getting. I have worked with integrity for the betterment of Brentwood and I need the support of the Brentwood community again,” she said.
Other challengers in the election are Brentwood Library Board Chairman Paul Webb and Paul Ross, who has been active in the city for 15 years and previously served as chairman of the board for the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce.
“The city commission needs to have five separate minds and five separate opinions,” Ross said.
“I think the fact that three people are running together and trying to take over the commission as a team is probably the worst thing that could possibly happen to the city commission. I think you want five people on that board who are independent.”
Early voting is available today at the Williamson County Election Commission, 1320 West Main in Franklin’s former county hospital. It begins Monday in Brentwood City Hall and continues through April 28.
The general election is May 3.