Knox County administrators race between Justin Biggs and Richard Jacobs


Voters heading to the polls for this spring’s county primary will find candidates with varying levels of business or government experience.

Two primary candidates bring different experiences to the race for a lesser-known but vital role in county government.

The Knox County Trustee Race features County Commissioner Justin Biggs, who has spent more than 15 years in the trustee office, taking on newcomer Richard Jacobs and his years of business experience.

The trustee, like other office holders, generally does not receive the same attention as the commission, the school board or the county mayor. Admins do not post encrypted messages on social media or take sides on mask mandates.

The Knox County trustees race features County Commissioner Justin Biggs, right, who has spent more than 15 years in the trustees' office, taking on newcomer Richard Jacobs and his career of business experience.

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The trustee’s office serves as the county’s bank. It collects property taxes, gets money where it needs to go, and plays a central role in the county’s management of its nearly $900 million budget.

Ed Shouse, the current administrator, has a limited term after serving two terms. He previously served as a county commissioner in the same seat as Biggs and a Knoxville alderman before that. He also had banking experience.

What kind of experience do you want in your next trustee?

Justin Bigg

Biggs defeated longtime Knox County politician R. Larry Smith in the 2018 county commission primary before easily sending his Democratic opponent to the overall. Prior to running for office, Biggs’ name was well known in political circles. Her father, Eddie Biggs, was a longtime law enforcement officer and retired as deputy chief in the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.

Biggs has come his own way since his recent election as vice-chairman of the commission.

His commission work is probably best known for his vocal support – in tandem with Commissioner Kyle Ward – for the dismantling of the Knox County Board of Health Authority during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biggs gave up a fairly safe path to re-election to run for trustee instead. He relies on his experience.

Except for a brief foray elsewhere, working in the trustee’s office was the only job Biggs held as an adult. Hired as a collector with no college experience, Biggs has, in his words, worked every job in the office. For the past eight years, he has overseen the collections team as an administrator. That makes him qualified, he said.

“I worked at the trustee’s office (downtown),” he says. “I worked in the five satellite offices. I worked on the investment side. I worked the phones. I worked at the counter. I worked in crime. I worked in tax refunds and tax freezes… if there’s a vacuum I’ll do it.

“I never want to ask someone to do something that I wouldn’t do.”

He is running, he said, so the hard work he and others have put in under Shouse can continue.

“I’m ready to lead from day one,” he continued. “I know this office. For example, there won’t be a huge transition period. It’s going to be very minimal. I mean, you’re not gonna see me tearing down the shop, going in there because I know what to do.

Biggs said if elected, he would work with state lawmakers to try to simplify the tax relief for veterans, which the county currently offers, but qualifying is difficult and the stipulations are strict.

Separately, he said he wanted to focus on the five fiduciary satellite offices and make it easier for people to get in and talk to them one-on-one with a tax adviser.

Richard Jacobs

About four years ago, after spending a career helping build industrial and supply chain companies around the world, Jacobs found himself with the opportunity to choose where he and his wife, Brooke, would take their semi-retirement. The pair made an attribute list of places they would like to live that were close enough to Atlanta for him to visit his father. Knoxville was the fugitive choice.

Now he wants to give back.

He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Clarkson University and extensive business experience. He said the administrator is a role that suits him well.

Jacobs left Eaton Hydraulics Inc. in 2018 where he worked for approximately 14 years. He left as president of the Europe, Middle, East and Africa division, which had an $800 million budget and required him to live in Hungary. While in East Tennessee, he ran Dura-Line, an international company specializing in communications infrastructure.

It’s that experience that sets him apart, Jacobs said, and he referenced an old Shouse quote as proof of his qualifications.

“The principal role of the administrator is to collect and invest the taxpayers’ money of the county – hundreds of millions of dollars a year. So having someone with a business and finance background like me makes sense. That’s what Ed Shouse said.

“…so when I look at my background, you know in terms of business and finance, I think it was exactly that,” he said.

If elected, Jacobs said he would work to improve internal processing and establish an investment committee made up of local business and bank executives who would help guide the county in investment decisions. investment in order to obtain the best return for the county.

“We want to give back, and when I look at my journey and look at the work, I felt it was a good game… when I looked at it, I felt it was the work the more applicable where I could add value to the citizens of Knox County.”

Early voting begins Wednesday

Early voting begins Wednesday and ends April 28. The primary election takes place on May 3. The primary winners qualify for the county’s general election held on August 4.

As the lone Democrat, Dave “Caz” Cazalet automatically moves into the fall general election to face the Republican winner.


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