Candidate forum draws crowd

By Mike Steely

The Knox County Commission candidate forum Thursday evening at the Emporium on Gay Street drew a sizable crowd to hear those people with primary opposition speak. Candidates with no opposition in their Republican or Democratic Primary did not appear.

The event, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the Knoxville NAACP and the Arts and Cultural Alliance, saw a variety of questions from the audience that ran the gambit from raising taxes to fund schools; from gay marriage to county roads; from the sign ordinance to the 911 system.

On hand were 1st District Democratic candidates Rick Staples and Evelyn Gill, 2nd District Republican candidates Michele Carringer and John Fugate, 4th District Republican candidates Jeff Ownby, Janet Testerman and Hugh Nystrom, and 6th District Republican candidates Brad Anders and John Ashley.

When asked about the possibility of the county adopting a sign ordinance similar to the one the city now has, most candidates said “on a case by case basis” but John Fugate said he disagrees and said that local government doesn’t need to regulate business.

Responding to the possibility of a county tax increase, most candidates responded that a tax increase may be needed in the next few years.

“I could see a tax increase under the next mayor,” said Rick Staples. Brad Anders said that any tax increase needs to be “well thought out” and said it should not only be for education but include the sheriff’s department and future fire protection.

The question about passing a resolution opposing same sex marriage benefits to county employees had all of the candidates in agreement, saying they would not support it and referred to the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. Several said they have “personal beliefs” about the issue. Only Evelyn Gill said she believes in same-sex marriages.

Michele Carringer said the question should not be a county commission issue.

On the subject of county roads, Janet Testerman said there needs to be a long term strategy. Rick Staples drew a laugh when he said, “The roads in the First District test my Christianity” adding that although the district is in the city, it is also in the county and he asked for “a little piece of the pie” in road funding.

Each candidate agreed that a new middle school is needed for Hardin Valley but the First District and Second District candidates spoke of their needs. Ashley said that Hardin Valley is “maxed out” with students and Carringer described Central High School as an “inner city school” and spoke of improvements at Shannondale Elementary.

The candidates were asked about the troubled E-911 system was asked and Brad Anders, who is on the 911 Board, said the bidding process should have started over given the last tie vote. He said a lot is happening in the system and on the board that “the public is not aware of.”

All of the candidates said they agree that a new radio system is needed and most said the board should listen to the first responders in choosing a system.

When asked about using tourism dollars from the occupation taxes for Arts or Marketing, Carringer replied that Arts deserve more funding. Hugh Nystrom, who arrived late to the forum, said that marketing Knox County to other states is important. Most candidates said the funds should be split between marketing and local arts.

Speaking of a proposal to link local schools and public libraries Staples said he would establish a “Zaevion Dobson Smart Library.”

In opening or final statements Ownby commented that the county needs a Safety Center to treat the mentally ill who are arrested. Anders said he took the lead with repairing the Internal Auditor office and Visit Knoxville. Fugate said the commission needs a visionary and not a reactionary.

Testerman said she has been an ambassador for Knox County and mentioned her late father, Mayor Kyle Testerman. Ashley pledged to stay on the commission for a full four year term if elected.

Staples mentioned gang violence in the county and said he has a “heart for service and ears to listen.” Gill said the 1st District needs strong schools, safety and a strong infrastructure.

Carringer said she has been active in civic organizations and said her area, the 2nd, is the “most unique district.”

Fugate said the current commission “has done a great job” and he wants to continue that effort.

Nystrom said the commission needs “a broad prospective in helping people and businesses.”

Ashley said he would help support the growth that is coming and mentioned sidewalks for schools.

Early voting begins February 10 and March 1 is Primary Election Day. The General Election is set for August 4.