Candidates discuss issues
Hamblen County voters had the opportunity Monday evening to hear from candidates seeking election to several county offices at the Aug. 2 election.
The Morristown Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a candidate forum in the International Lyceum in the Student Services Building at Walters State Community College.
Debra Williams, general manager of the Morristown Area Chamber of Commerce, served as moderator of the forum and gave each candidate the opportunity to present a two-minute statement introducing themselves and telling about their candidacy.
The candidates for county offices did not have a formal question-and-answer session.
Of the seven county seats on the ballet, only two have contested races — District 13 and 14 of the Hamblen County School Board and General Sessions Judge Division 1.
Ken Grigsby, who is running for reelection to the school board, said his children went through the Hamblen County School system and received a good education. Yet he is still interested in being a part of the decision-making process in the Hamblen County School System.
“But why I’m running for reelection — children,” he said, “If you’re running for any other reason, you’re probably running for the wrong reason.”
Grigsby said despite the economic times and the fact that the county schools have not had a tax increase in 10 years, “the system has done remarkably well.” He said to continue to make strides in education, “we’ve got to lower our classroom sizes and we’ve got to get great teachers. And that takes money.”
He said that in the past 12 years, the school board has managed to slowly build up its fund balance, which has helped them to meet the capital needs they are faced with now.
Grigsby said the State Department of Education recently raised its standards.
“I’d be the first to admit they need to be raised,” he said. “Students have to be better prepared.” He continued that the way the changes were implemented have created some instability in the school system and “it is imperative that our local school board remain stable during this time. I can provide the stability, the maturity and the knowledge of this system to move forward.”
His opponent, Will Sliger, is a product of the school system. He graduated from West High and attended Walters State.
“During this time of financial uncertainty and economic hardship, it’s important that the school board is held responsible for its financial decisions,” Sliger said. “I’ll work to make sound choices for the school system.”
Sliger said that education and economic development are two important parts of quality of life in Hamblen County.
“In order to bring more higher paying jobs to our area, we must improve the skill set of our workforce,” he said. “We must also support our school system in order to help our children in this community reach their highest potential and learn crucial job skills market.
Dr. Joe Gibson Jr., who is running unopposed in District 3 and 4, said as far as he believes, he represents “all children in Hamblen County, no matter where they go to school, where they live, what color their skin, whether they’re rich or poor. They deserve a quality education.”
Gary Chesney, running unopposed in District 1 and 2, said the purpose of being on the board is to take “the funds we have, whether it comes from the state, the county commission or sales tax dollars and providing a good learning environment, good buildings, good teachers to teach and a good CEO to administrate the schools.”
Doug Collins, who is running for General Sessions Judge Division 1, has actually been in the job since June 1, when he was appointed to serve out the term of retiring Judge Joyce Ward.
“I’ve been sitting full time since June I in that position and I think I can say we haven’t missed a beat,” Collins said. “We’ve carried on doing good work and I don’t think that anything is lacking.”
Collins said he has the support of local law enforcement, the district attorney general’s office, the public defender’s office and the local legal community in general.
“In my nearly 20 years of practice, I’ve been in most of the general sessions courts in upper East Tennessee, and I’ve had the opportunity to see what makes a good judge. Above all, it’s integrity,” he said, adding that he’s never had a complaint filed against him. “I also would like to say that the judge has got to have support of local law enforcement to do this job right.”
His opponent, criminal attorney Michael Murphy, said he has practiced law for 32 years and has sat in, as needed, for general sessions special court for the same number of years.
“I was trained by Judge Beckner in his court for years,” Murphy said. “I sat in for Judge Miller when he was ill. I sat for Judge Ward the entire 16 years she was there when they needed someone.”
Murphy said he has the reputation of running a disciplined courtroom and said that general sessions court is important.
“Every man, woman and child depends on sessions court,” he said. “It’s where the rubber meets the road. If you make a mistake there, a murderer could walk free. A drunk driver could walk free. It’s something you need to consider.”
Also speaking at the forum were candidatese running unopposed: Kennethy Ely, assessor of property; Barry Poole, road superintendent; Rick Eldridge, Hamblen County Commission, District 11; and Larry Carter, Hamblen County Commission, District 14.
-By Denise Williams, Tribune Staff Writer
Miller, Goins square off in forum
The main event of Monday’s Morristown Area Chamber of Commerce Candidate Forum pitted State Rep. Don Miller against a fellow Republican, Hamblen County Commissioner Tilman Goins.
The race will be decided in the Aug. 2 primary with no opposition in the November general election.
For the two Republicans, Monday’s forum often seemed like a game of one-upmanship to establish their true conservative bonafides.
Being a Chamber-sponsored event, the majority of the questions dealt with issues important to local business and industry, like education, infrastructure and government regulations.
Both candidates talked about nurturing and growing local business and industry.
“The best thing we can do is create a local tax base,” Goins said. “… as a conservative, honestly I don’t feel that there’s anything that anyone in Nashville can do to create jobs unless they’re more government jobs.
“What I do feel is, and what I’m proud of what I’ve done while working at the local area in local government is: Working with the local area Chamber; helping to fund the local area Chamber and their industrial development board, tourism board (and) working with other local governments to keep a low tax rate here in Hamblen County so we can see business either expand or move here.”
While Goins – who was elected to office in August of 2010 – doesn’t believe Nashville can create jobs, he does believe his work at the local level helped lower unemployment.
“In fact I’m proud to say that in my time, with my experience on the County Commission, when I took office the unemployment rate in Hamblen County was 10.9 percent. Today, that unemployment rate is at 8.6. Not from the effort of Washington D.C., certainly. Not from the efforts of Nashville. But from the efforts of local people with local money coming together to nurture that environment.”
Miller – who also was elected for the first time in 2010 – agreed that Nashville doesn’t create jobs, but he said legislators should get some credit for creating and protecting that business friendly atmosphere.
“We don’t create the jobs. But if we’re not creating the environment for jobs, they’re not going to happen …,” he said, before comparing solid conservative policies in Nashville to Miracle Grow for business and industry. “One of the things we want to ensure that we’re always a right to work state … they’re also coming here because we have no state income tax … Also what we need to do is provide workforce training. There’s a lot that we’re doing right now within the state of Tennessee within the FastTrack program to create jobs, training people for the work that they need. …
“An infrastructure program is key to being able to create jobs. We do that here in Hamblen County. We take money; we invest it in the property so that when industry begins to look where they want to locate a business. If you’re not ready for them, they’re going to go someplace else.”
Goins also stressed his belief in the importance of Nashville allowing spending decisions to be made by the local schools and boards that are most familiar with the specific needs of their constituents.
“We live in rural Hamblen County; the needs of our (school) system wouldn’t necessarily apply in Memphis,” he said.
Miller discussed the legislature’s achievements during his first two years in office. He cited legislation passed to battle illegal immigration through the e-verify program, his support of a Constitutional Amendment that would forever protect against a state income tax and cuts in spending and taxes.
“I’ve shown that, over these last two years, I have the best relationships with state and local leaders,” Miller said. “I had the courage to do my duty. I’ve also proven that I can get the job done.”
It’s that duty that sparks one of the more contentious issues of the campaign. Goins has been critical of Miller for carrying legislation to fix the unending procedural loop surrounding the city’s appointment of board members for Morristown Utility Systems.
The old process – the board submits three names to the mayor and the mayor picks one of those names to submit to the full council – worked for about a decade.
However, the mayor and the council split over the renomination of long time MUS board member and president George McGuffin, The ensuing stalemate lasted months before a majority of the council voted to ask Nashville to change the city charter and ask Miller and Southerland to carry the legislation.
Opponents fought the charter change, citing the decade-old vote which allowed MUS to enter the cable and Internet business, as well as changed the board make-up and nominating process.
Goins accused Miller of ignoring the will of the people.
“I will always make the voice of the citizens my top priority,” he said.
Miller countered that he did his duty, following the will of the majority of the city council as is traditionally done in the legislature when local issues come to Nashville.
“You elect local officials to make decisions in your local community,” Miller said. “I respect that.”
Goins – a former Marine and soldier in the U.S. Army – sees his leadership style as one that builds coalitions and stands strong for his convictions.
“Bullheadedness and bullheaded leadership get you nowhere but shutdown quick,” he said. “And that’s not the kind of leader we need in Nashville.”
Miller said his own style has been that of a servant-leader.
“We need to be leaders but we have to do it in a humble way,” he said.
Later Miller said he has built the relationships and gained the support needed in Nashville to get things done for Hamblen County.
“(Republican leadership) in Nashville wanted me there,” he said. “You know why they wanted me there? They wanted a conservative voice … My goal is to bring more jobs, less taxes and better service; I believe we need far more statesmen and far fewer politicians.
“I strive every day to be a statesman.”
-By John Gullion, Tribune Managing Editor
I’m Sam Grigsby, volunteer chair of the Chamber this year. On behalf of the Morristown Area Chamber of Commerce, I’d like to welcome you on behalf of our board of directors and our investors. I would first like to welcome each candidate that’s here. I appreciate your willingness to participate in this forum and your willingness to serve as candidates. And I would like to thank the audience. One of the blessings we enjoy in America is the ability to vote. I think that’s a God-given thing. I hope this forum will give you a vehicle where you can be better informed about the vote you make. So that’s what we’re here and why we’re here tonight. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the Legislative Relations Committee, chaired by Mike Fishman down here in front, who put this all together and organized this. And I thank that committee for their hard, hard work.
Without further ado, I’d like to introduce our moderator for the evening, Miss Debra Williams, who is the general manager of our Morristown Area Chamber of Commerce.
Good evening. I have already explained what’s going to go on tonight to the candidates. I just want to review that with you so you’ll understand what’s going on and how the program will flow this evening.
First on the program, we’re going to hear a two-minute statement from each candidate for Hamblen County office. I will announce each candidate’s name and they will proceed to this podium. They will each be given two minutes to introduce themselves and make a statement as to why they’d like to serve. The candidates, it’s already been explained to them. There’s a timer here. The green light will come on when they begin speaking. A yellow light will come on when they have 30 seconds remaining and then a red light will come on when their time is up. And that’s their signal to wrap up, because we don’t… Mike, would you play the obnoxious buzzer for us…
We don’t want to hear that so we’re going to try to be as generous as we can with our time.
After all the local candidates have spoken, we will take a very, very brief break, like two or three minutes, and allow these gentleman to take his seat in the office and that time, Don Miller and Tilman Goins, who are candidates for state representative in the 10th district, here in Hamblen County, will come down front and they will be seated a table and then we will begin the question and answer portion of the program. Each candidate will have three minutes to give an opening statement. And then I will begin the questions. Each candidate will answer each question. It’s not a debate. We will not go back and forth with one candidate makes a statement, there’s a rebuttal and there’s a wrap-up. It will be each candidate will have three minutes to answer each question.
We flipped a coin prior to coming into the room tonight. Tilman Goins won the coin toss so he’ll go first with his opening remarks. At the conclusion of the question and answer portion, there will be an opportunity for each candidate to give three minutes to wrap up the program. Since Mr. Goins went first, Mr. Miller was given his choice whether to speak first in the conclusion or whether to be the last speaker. He chose to be the last speaker and conclude our program. Their lighting cues will be the same as those for the other candidates. They do get three minutes to speak, but the yellow light will come at 30 seconds. As I said, gentlemen, if you’d like me to repeat a question, feel free to ask me. I’ll be happy to do that.
At this time we’re going to get started with our program and the first candidate will be Keith Ely, who is assessor of property for Hamblen County.
Keith Ely – Assessor of Property
Good evening. My name is Keith Ely. I’m assessor of property. I was elected in 2004. It’s been a joyful ride for the last eight years, let me say that, with our economy the way it is right now. Our office, we’re responsible for 31,000 parcels in Hamblen County with a net value of about $3.1 billion. We are also… we appraise the personal property also, county personal property for the county. We’re also responsible for the mapping. There’s over 400 maps in Hamblen County. That’s 400-foot by 100-foot maps. We’re also the point of contact for the county board of equalization.
In closing, there’s a quote that says a man’s worth is measured by his friends. Well, my worth is measured by the citizens of Hamblen County. And without you all and the vote that you gave me the last eight years, I’m very grateful for it. I look forward to serving another four years for you and I appreciate your vote in August. Thank you.
The next candidate is Barry Poole, Hamblen County Road Superintendent.
Barry Poole – Road Superintendent
I appreciate the chamber having this opportunity for us. I appreciate the opportunity to tell you folks how much I appreciate your support. I’ve served in Hamblen County in the last, well, since 1996. That’s 16 years. It’s been a privilege. And I want you to know that before anything else is said, that I realize I’m a public servant. I realize that I’m not just a person in office that’s ready to enjoy the prestige of it. I want you to know that the door of the Hamblen County Highway and Garbage Department is always open. My wife was formally Suzanne Clausen. We have two beautiful daughters, both of which have gone to Walters State and are now at ETSU. So we’re a blessed man and woman for the children God’s blessed us with. So we’re invested in this community in a lot of ways. At our place of business we have two functions. One is the highway department and the other is the Hamblen County Garbage Department. The budget for both departments is somewhere around $2 million, a little over $2 million. The number of people involved is about 20 in each department with a staff, administrative staff, of course, there’s about 44 people involved. The garbage department serves 14,700 residents or there’s 14,700 pickups that we do in a week’s time. Five garbage trucks go out and pick up the garbage once a week and a recycle truck goes out every other week and then there’s a fleet of brush trucks. Most of the time five. If there’s something under repair, more normally there’s about four. We’re out in the community every day. In doing so, we have the opportunity to wear our roads out with all of those trucks. Let me tell you that the … we’re in the process of picking those roads off that need paving one-by-one so we have good job security and be assured we’re working at it as hard as we can. At any time you come by and see me and let me know what the needs are in your community. Thank you.
Rick Eldridge – Hamblen County Commission District 11
Good evening. I am Rick Eldridge. I was appointed to the Hamblen County Commission in 2010 following the passing of Guy Collins, who had served the 11th district for about 50 years. It’s a very humbling thing and I’m very appreciative of the voters in the 11th district for their confidence in me to fill that office. I’ve lived here most of my life. My family came here in the early 1960s. They came from a neighboring county looking for an opportunity, looking for a job and we ended up making this our home and I have continued to do so with my family and make it my home. I think the one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is that Morristown and Hamblen County is still a place of opportunity and I think that that is one of the jobs the county commission needs to fulfill is to continuing to work to make this a place where businesses want to come to, keep our property taxes in check, make sure the different groups, the road department, different offices in the courthouse are properly funded. I think that as a group, as a whole, I look forward to being part of that and working for all of Hamblen County. Thank you.
Larry Carter – Hamblen County Commission District 14
I’m Larry Carter. I was appointed county commission in August 2011 to fill an unexpired term. I went on then to run in the primary in February of this year and I won that primary by 69 percent. I will be unopposed in this August election and I’d like to thank everybody for their complimentary vote. My goal is to help, along with the other commissioners, to make Morristown and Hamblen County a better place to live. Thank you.
Gary Chesney – Hamblen County School Board Districts 1 and 2
Thank you, Debra. Good evening. I’m Gary Chesney and some of you know me and some of you may not. I’m running to serve the final two years of the term of the seat I occupied for 18 years from 1988 to 2006 when I was on the board of education at that time. I didn’t run in 2006. Charles Cross was elected and he unexpectedly passed away a little over two years and that term still has two years remaining. The first school board district is the combination of the first two county commission districts. If you vote at the courthouse or if you vote at Meadowview Middle School. I’m running unopposed. I’ve always preferred that. That’s a better way to run. My wife and I, we vote. If I come out with a 2-0 lead, I’m happy. If it’s one and one, I’ve probably got trouble at the house. When you’ve got two minutes, it’s hard to express the passion I feel for public education. Most people are pretty much experts on public education because we’ve all had about 13 years of on-the-job training and experience by the time we’re 19 years old. And that’s good. Because people are always pushing education to get better. They’re always pushing school board and teachers and the kids. And that’s the way it ought to be. The purpose of being on the school board is basically taking the funds that we have, whether it comes from the state, the county commission or sales tax dollars and providing a good learning environment, good buildings, good teachers to teach and a good CEO to administrate the schools. I’m in that yellow zone so I’ll kind of wrap it up. I would appreciate your vote to go back on the school board for the remaining two years. I’m proud to serve on the school board. I’ve missed it the years I haven’t been on the board and I look forward to filling out Mr. Cross’ term. Thank you.
Dr. Joe Gibson Jr.
Dr. Joe Gibson Jr. – Hamblen County School Board District 3 and 4
Thank you, Debra. I’d like to thank the Chamber for putting the forum on. I’m a product of the Hamblen County school system. My father was Dr. Joe Gibson Sr. and he served several years, I think it was 12 but I’m not sure because I didn’t check it before I cam. But he passed away in 2003 and I was appointed to his term and ran twice and was elected and I’m running again this time. I would like to say a couple of things. I represent districts 3 and 4 as far as the election, but I represent all children in Hamblen County, no matter where they go to school, where they live, what color their skin are, whether they’re rich or poor, I think we… they deserve a quality education. And I think the board of education’s job to do that. There’s no reason at this point in time for a child not to get a quality education. If they want to go to trade school, if they want to go to college, there are vehicles in place. Money… I’ll help them fill out the paperwork. It takes all of us. It takes the board, it takes the commission, it takes the parents, it takes the administrators, it takes the teachers, of course, to deliver this quality education. But one thing I want to say, and I think the sheriff will back me up, it’s so much cheaper to educate the citizenry than to put them in jail. It’s so much cheaper. And the only way… we have 65 percent poverty in Hamblen County. A lot of people don’t know that. The best way to get somebody out of poverty is to give them a good education. I think that’s why I have such passion for education. My father grew up poor. He was the only one in his family to go to college and on to dental school. Educated people, they will make more money, they will pay more taxes and will make this a better place to live. I thank you for support and have a good evening.
Jim Grigsby – Hamblen County School Board Districts 13 and 14
Thank you, Debra. The state of the school system in two minutes, that’s impossible. But why I’m running for reelection – children. If you’re running for any other reason, you’re probably running for the wrong reason. Susan and I have had two children who have gone through the school system and when you have children in a school system you develop a greater concern. You’re more engaged in what’s going on in the school system and the classrooms. The environment. I just want to be more involved in that decision-making process. Even though our children have graduated, that desire is still there. I want to be a part of that process. Our children did get a good education here in Hamblen County. My daughter has just started pharmacy school and my son will be a junior at UT this fall. They’re doing very well. My wife, Susan, she’s also fully engaged. She’s taught in the school system here for 20 years. And believe me, she reminds me every week what the needs are in the school system. So I’ve got first-hand information. Speaking of needs, that means tax dollars. We could talk for eternity about tax dollars and percentages. We could target those many ways. But just let me make two or three comments. The system has done remarkably well considering the limited local funding we’ve received. But based on our system’s report card from the state, we’re making progress. If we want to make greater strides in education, we’ve got to lower our classroom sizes and we’ve got to get great teachers. And that takes money. But even with the minimum local funding, we’ve been able to slowly increase our fund balance over the last 12 years. I find that’s important because when the economy fails to generate tax revenue, we have to fall back to our savings and that’s what we’ve been doing. Our schools, they need capital needs also, which we’re addressing now. So we’ve managed our dollars well. It’s been about 10 years since we received any tax increase in Hamblen County. Because of foresight that we’ve had not to spend every bit of revenue we received, we built that fund up. Recently the state department of Tennessee has raised our standards. I’d be the first to admit they need to be raised. Students have to be better prepared. The way the state has implemented those changes has really created some instability in these school systems and it is imperative that our local school board remain stable during this time. I can provide the stability, the maturity and the knowledge of this system to move forward. If you support me, I’ll guarantee that we’ll continue to move forward. Thank you.
Will Sliger – Hamblen County School Board District 13 and 14
I’d first like to thank the Chamber for hosting this forum. Also for inviting myself and allowing me to participate. I’d also like to thank members of the media and those in attendance tonight who came out to join us.
My name is Will Sliger. I’m a graduate of West High. The product of Hamblen County schools. I attended Walters State. I furthered my education and got my bachelors degree in business from Tusculum College in town, as well. I’m also married to Beth Turner Sliger. Fiscal responsibility is a top priority. During this time of financial uncertainty and economic hardship, it’s important that the school board is held responsible for its financial decisions. As a self-employed commercial real estate broker, I understand that making financially responsible decision is of much important. With my business experience and abilities, I’ll work to make sound choices for the school system. As chairman of the chamber’s retail committee and a member of the industrial relations committee, I’ve found that quality of life in Hamblen County is derived from two important places. That’s education and economic development. In order to bring more higher paying jobs to our area, we must improve the skill set of our workforce. WE must also support our school system in order to help our children in this community reach their highest potential and learn crucial skills for the job market. As candidate for school board in the 13th and 14th district, I humbly ask for your vote on Aug. 2. Thank you.
Doug Collins – General Sessions Judge Division 1
Good evening. First of all, thank you to the Chamber of Commerce for hosting this. My name is Doug Collins and I’m running for the Hamblen County Sessions Judge position. I’m also a product of the Hamblen County school system. I graduated from Morristown West in 1986. Went on to the University of Tennessee and graduated in 1990 and then went to Memphis State Law School in 1993. I came back here and have been practicing full time as an attorney since then. The last 10 year of it have been as a solo practitioner. Recently I was nominated by the Hamblen County Republican Party unanimously to represent the party during the general election for the Hamblen County General Sessions position. Shortly thereafter, I was unanimously appointed by the Hamblen County Commission to serve out the remaining term of Judge Ward, who retired earlier. I’ve been sitting full time since June 1 in that position and I think I can say that we haven’t missed a beat. We’ve carried on doing good work and I don’t think that anything is lacking. As a matter of fact, I think some things have gotten better. I’ve addressed some of the concerns of the court, such as getting started on time, which was one of the complaints. I’ve also addressed some of the issues about people who were kind of neglecting the probation rules. Some of those people are now taking them quite a bit more seriously. I’d like to tell you I believe I have the support of local law enforcement, the Hamblen County Sheriff’s Department, the police department, the local FOP, the district attorney general’s office, the public defender’s office and the local legal community in general. In my nearly 20 years of practice, I’ve been in most of the general sessions courts in Hamblen County, in upper East Tennessee, and I’ve had the opportunity to see what makes a good judge. Above all, it’s integrity. You’ve got to keep your integrity intact and I can stand here and proudly say I’ve never had a complaint filed against me. I’m proud of that and I also would like to say that the judge has got to have support of local law enforcement to do this job right. Please don’t overlook this election. It’s crucial. It’s important. It’s the busiest court that we’ve got. Stand up here and I thank for your support. I thank you for listening and I’d appreciate your vote in August election. Thank you.
Michael Murphy – Hamblen General Sessions Judge Division 1
I also appreciate everyone who showed up today and the sponsors and the hosts. I’d like to acknowledge my 80-year-old mother who’s bounced back from pneumonia and is in the audience tonight. The general sessions judge, I was the first person to qualify for that judicial candidacy back on April 13. I’ve been knocking on doors and a couple of things you learn real is fast is that family is really important. It’s what people put on the top of their list of things. The second one is taxpayer money. This judgeship is funded at $153,077, so basically $153,000, it comes out of your pocket. It doesn’t come from Nashville. It comes from your property tax. So there’s a reason for you to go vote on Aug. 2. Early voting starts on July 13. So you’re protecting your tax investment. I’ve been practicing in criminal law for 32 years. I’ve been sitting in, as needed, for general sessions special court judge for 32 years. I was trained by Judge Beckner in his court for years. I sat in for Judge Miller when he was ill. I sat for Judge Ward the entire 16 years she was there when they needed someone. At age 60, I have certain life experiences that I can offer. I’ve been on the boards of Rose Center. I’ve been a member of the Humane Society, Central Services. I was sworn in by Judge William Inman as municipal court judge and I have a reputation for running a disciplined courtroom. So I hope you will take that in consideration. I’ve been at the same church for 40 years. I’ve very invested in this community. The second thing people want is public safety. Every man, woman and child depend on sessions court. It’s where the rubber meets the road. If you make a mistake there, a confessed murderer could walk free. A drunk driver could walk free. It’s something you need to consider and I hope you’ll consider the 32 years I’ve invested. Thank you very much.