Candidates showed in mass at the Republican candidate forum Tuesday night at the Blount County Public Library.
The two-hour event brought contested and uncontested candidates together. Many saw the two Republican county mayoral candidates - incumbent Jerry Cunningham and challenger Ed Mitchell - together for the first time.
Cunningham, a former Marine and U.S. attorney, stressed his military service and record of work within the Republican party while Mitchell, a retired Maryville firefighter who served as chief for more than 14 years, focused on his career in public safety.
“I think you can judge leadership by the people who follow. Check my record with those I’ve led,” Cunningham said.
The mayor recalled filling out an absentee ballot while serving in the Vietnam War. “We got 1,500 rounds of mortar fire that day, and I vowed if I lived, I would come home and try to make Blount County a better place.”
Mitchell said he is a sixth generation Blount Countian, worked for 31 years in public service and still lives on the farm his family started in 1856. “I love serving Blount County. I want to listen to the public and be a voice for them when they talk to me,” Mitchell said.
When asked one issue facing the county and how the county mayor should deal with it, Mitchell said jobs are the most important issue. “I’ve talked to and listened to a lot of people, and one thing that has people worried is a lack of jobs and a lack of industrial and commercial development. Blount Countians don’t want to be out of work,” he said.
Cunningham said one of the major issues is debt management and the distortion on how the county is dealing with debt. “I think one of the most important things is that there are a lot of false political prophets. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state. Our debt is not hollow credit. Every debt has an asset,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham also addressed progress for the school system in Blount County. “We built nine new schools,” he said. “We owe the county’s children a good education. If you want to bring good jobs to this community, you have to educate your children well.”
The mayor was asked how running as an incumbent is an asset. He responded that not only had he learned more about the intricacies of government, he also got to know the other public servants better.
“I think I’ve seen the dedication of these men and women I’ve been allowed to serve with, and it’s not an ego trip,” Cunningham said of elected officials and commissioners. “I’ve learned a deep respect for them. With the help of this commission, there has been a steady hand on the wheel, and it is well managed. Don’t let the harbingers of doom and gloom tell you otherwise.”
Mitchell said sometimes when a person is in office, they lose perspective on the issues. “Although intentions are good, I think sometimes, after so many years, it’s time for new energy, for new folks to come in and open up a door to those who felt the door was closed to them,” Mitchell said. “By bringing in a fresh face and new ideas, I think I can give people the opportunities to come in and be a part of what is Blount County government.”
The chief said he had a good reason for running for mayor. “I’m not doing this for me,” he said. “I’m doing this because I love Blount County. This is the only way I know to make it a better place for my children and grandchildren to live.”
By the districts:
Contested primary races
In the District III, Seat B contest, candidates Mike Caylor and Jimmy Melton spoke.
Caylor said he is an administrative captain at Maryville Fire Department where he has worked for 21 years. “I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to do more with less. I’m a multi-tasker and a problem-solver, not a problem-maker. I’m a Christian, and I believe in the constitution of the United States of America,” Caylor said.
Caylor said he would work to support education, controlled growth and keep the infrastructure up with growth.
Jimmy Melton, who is the brother of District X, Seat B Commissioner Kenneth Melton, said he lives in the same district where he was born and raised. The businessman and military veteran said there are key issues like education and the budget that he plans to address if elected. “I will always remember it is your money,” Melton said. “I believe I’m the right person at the right time for the people of the third district.”
In District IV, Seat A, challenger Jerry Lee Harvey and incumbent Gary Farmer spoke.
Farmer, a teacher at Heritage High School, said he was first elected in 2002 and is proud of his accomplishments on the commission. Farmer said dealing with the budget has always been a first priority to him. “The most important thing we deal with is setting the tax rate and working with department heads,” he said.
Harvey said he grew up in a farming community in North Florida before he joined the U.S. Navy, served during the first Gulf War and lived in Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. Harvey and his wife and family moved to Blount County in 1996, and he works at Alcoa, Inc., as a maintenance troubleshooter, meaning he works to prevent problems before they occur. “I see things before they happen,” he said. “I believe I can do the same thing for the people of Blount County.”
In District IV, Seat B, Mark Hasty, incumbent, and Kim Russell addressed the audience.
Hasty, a first-year commissioner, said he came before the Republican party three and a half years ago as a new face. “I said I would run on family values and do my best for the Blount County District IV based on my family values,” he said.
Hasty said he has been married 30 years to his wife, Gaye, and he has been a machinist 26 years. “Regardless of the outcome, I will support whoever is the Republican nominee.”
Hasty said debt is one of the issues facing the commission. “It’s a big figure, but it has not come upon us by surprise,” he said of debt for among other things, school construction. “What has surprised us is how fast interest rates have come down. Now is the time for a fixed rate.”
Russell said she is a conservative Republican and a fourth generation Blount Countian. “Family and community is what make this a great place to live,” she said.
Russell said she has spent the last 15 years working in a dental practice and now she wants to work in the community. “Resolving problems, that is what I want to do,” she said. “I’m going to tell the truth, whether you agree with me or not. I grew up here and have a passion for the people.”
In District IV, Seat C, a seat held by Democrat Wendy Pitts Reeves. Jerome Moon, Billy Gribble and Bradley Forrester are challenging her, but only Moon was present.
Moon shared how he enlisted in the U.S. Marines at 17, accepted Christ at 21 and after college, returned home and worked at his wife’s family’s business, The Maryville Daily Times. He worked his way up to where he eventually was publisher. “I was an employee at the Maryville Times before I was an employer. I know the responsibility of making a payroll and the responsibility of staying in a budget. I want to be elected to serve and represent the taxpayers and families of the fourth district,” he said. “The future of Blount County depends on our family values. I’m asking for the most powerful thing you own - your vote.”
In District VI, Seat A, incumbent Holden Lail as well as challengers Steve Hicks and Sherry Turner, shared their thoughts.
Lail, a retired Blount County teacher and principal now working as a school improvement consultant with Edvantia, said he had learned, “No honest work is below anybody’s dignity, and there’s not a problem solved without work. The best way to solve problem is through teamwork.”
Lail said he wants to move the county forward. “I’m running to continue to work with this team of people,” he said of the commissioners and elected officials.
Hicks thanked those who organized the forum for the opportunity to speak. “I have no problem with the commissioner who represents us, I just want to serve. Holden said I can’t sit in his lap, so I’m running against him,” he said as the audience laughed.
Turner, owner of Alpha Omega Legal Specialists, said she grew up in Campbell County in a small town similar to Maryville. “I’m concerned with the budget and our debt. I’m a 9-year business owner in Blount County. I started as a Republican in 1981. Your concerns are my concerns. Regardless if you are a Republican, Democrat or Independent, I’m going to listen,” she said.
In District VII, Seat A, incumbent Steve Hargis spoke. Challenger Jim Folts was not present.
Hargis said he is a lifetime resident of Blount County and retired from Oak Ridge as an electrician two years ago. “I’m running for a fourth term,” he said. “I have seen a lot of thing happen. One thing we’re proud of is that in three years, we’ve not raised taxes.”
Hargis said he is running again because there are still things he wants to accomplish on the commission. He said that while some complain about the county’s debt, “Our debt is 95 percent for the construction of new schools.”
In District VII, Seat B, Tom Greene and Tom Cole were present. The seat is being currently held by David Graham who is not running.
Cole said he is a 21-year veteran of Denso and currently manages four departments. “I decided to get involved in this year’s election. I feel freedoms are being threatened,” he said.
Cole said he would be fiscally responsible as a commissioner. “Nowadays, it is important to stretch dollars and make them go further,” he said. “We need to fund education, roads and infrastructure.”
Greene said he is 63 and knows the meaning of serving others as he works for a utility company. “I’ve worked for Fort Loudoun Electric,” he said. “We serve people day and night.”
Greene said he would work with others to get things done. “That’s what I want to do if elected to the county commission,” he said.
In District VIII, Seat A, candidates James Taylor and John C. Templeton spoke. Candidates Roy Gamble and Steve Donald were not present. Incumbent John Keeble is not seeking re-election.
Taylor said he has been to almost every commission meeting in the past four years and has studied everything from scripture to legal documents to keep informed on how to be a good commissioner. “I’ve studied hard. Anything you find in the Bible is applicable to what you do in representing people on the commission. I can do this job. I know the people in the community, and I will serve well if elected.”
Templeton drew some laughter when he admitted he wasn’t a native. “I was not born in Blount County, my grandparents didn’t live in Cades Cove, and I did not graduate from Everett High School,” he said.
Templeton said he is a conservative Republican who was born in Kingston. When he was 12, his father moved the family to Indiana for work. “Blount County is a wonderful community. I’m running out of a sense of responsibility,” he said. “I’ve always taught my children that being an adult is dong things you have to do.”
In District VIII, Seat B, incumbent Mike Walker and challenger Gordon Wright, Sr., shared their views.
Walker said he has worked for the Republican Party in Blount County since 1982 when he graduated Heritage High School. Walker said he served in District IV -Seat A for seven years, resigning after State Sen. Carl Koella died, and the county commission appointed Walker to fill the unexpired term of then State Rep. Bill Clabough, who took Koella’s seat in the State Senate. He has served in District VIII - Seat B since 2002. “I know many of you know this will be my last term on the county commission,” he said. “I want to finish the work we began concerning the budget because we do not have a debt service policy tied to income/tax base of the county,” he said.
Wright said he is a Blount County native, his family came from Cades Cove, and he graduated Walland High School and the University of Tennessee. Wright served in the United States Marine Corps and previously served eight years on the county commission. “I left in 1990. We were the only commission to ever lower the tax rate,” he said.
Uncontested in the primary
Candidates in uncontested elections for either the county commission or a constitutional office, thanked the Blount County Republican Party for their support.
Sheriff James Berrong said serving in the position for 20 years has been the most humbling experience of his life. He praised the men and women in the sheriff’s office who work to make the community safe. “It’s not by accident that we do not have the issues Knox County has,” he said. “It is because we work hard.”
Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher said he grew up in Blount County, was with the sheriff’s office 10 years, served on the county commission for five years and has been Circuit Court Clerk for more than 15 years. “I’ve been in public service my whole life. That’s all I know,” Hatcher said.
Highway Department Superintendent Bill Dunlap said he came to work at the department in 1980. “It’s been fun. I started when we had a lot more gravel roads than asphalt,” he said. Dunlap’s father was superintendent then and his goal was no more gravel roads. Dunlap said now he has his own goal - eliminating one-lane bridges in the county. “We still have a lot of work to do,” he said.
Roy Crawford thanked the party for supporting him as county clerk. “It’s been an honor to serve. You know me and what I stand for. I’m a conservative. It’s important we support the philosophies of the Republican Party,” he said.
County Trustee Scott Graves said he appreciated the support the party has given him. “I’m not responsible for the tax bill, I just send it,” he said as the audience laughed.
Graves said he was elected in 2000. “I want to continue to serve each and every one of you,” he said.
Phyllis Lee Crisp currently works in the Register of Deeds office and is running to replace Penny Whaley, who is retiring. “I’ve worked for the county for 10 years, eight years in the Register of Deeds office,” said Crisp.
Crisp is an Everett High graduate and said a lot of her public service was because of her husband, Tony Crisp, chief of police in Maryville. “I have always been behind him,” she said. “Now he’s behind me.”
Crisp said the staff in the office works hard to serve the public. “We are here to protect your most valuable asset, your land, she said.
In County Commission District I, Seat A, first-term incumbent Tonya Burchfield is unopposed in the primary. “I have just enjoyed it, and I think I’ve made good decisions. I really appreciate everything the Republican Party has done,” she said.
In County Commission District I, Seat B, Shawn Carter, Sr., who recently had a knee replacement and was using a walker, said he is very conservative and is raising his three children, ages 12, 16 and 19, to be conservative. Carter has served in the U.S. Army, worked for the Department of Defense and is now with the U.S. Postal Service in addition to pastoring a church in Lenoir City. The seat is currently held by Democrat David Ballard, who is running for re-election. “I appreciate your continued support,” said Carter. “I will be there for you whenever you call.”
District II,Seat A commissioner Brad Harrison was not present. District II, Seat B commissioner Mike Lewis was not present.
District III, Seat A commissioner Steve Samples, the commission chairman, thanked the party for their support. “Why do I want to go back to the commission? The simple answer is we’ve taken on a lot of things, from the debt to the new animal shelter,” he said. Samples said he, commissioner Peggy Lambert and commissioner Brad Harrison have opposition in the general election. “We have to be cautious, they can be dangerous as far as pulling votes. We do not need to take any votes for granted,” he said.
Lambert, the District V, Seat A commissioner, said she was appointed in February of 2009 to fill the unexpired term of Bob Ramsey after he was appointed to the State House. “I think the greatest responsibility the commission has is being a good steward of your money,” she said. “I worked my way through school and college, and I know how to be frugal. The greatest challenge we have is our money management.”
District VI, Seat B commissioner Scott Helton shared how when he first won a seat on the commission in 1990, he and opponent Mike White tied - one of the first times in Tennessee history that has happened. He left the position in 1996 to be in charge of magistrates. He was re-elected in 2006. “I’ve enjoyed it. We accomplished a lot in the last four years,” he said. “I appreciate your support.”
District IX, Seat A and B commissioners Monika Murrell and Ron French were not present.
District X, Seat A commissioner Gerald Kirby thanked the party for their support. He pointed to the Blount County Animal Center as one of the accomplishments of the commission. He asked for the voters support because he will have competition from the Blount County Democratic Party chair Tony Webb during the general election in August. “They’ve put the best they’ve got -- the chairman of the Democratic Party -- against me,” he said.
District X, Seat B commissioner Kenneth Melton said he has always enjoyed serving on the commission and said he has deep roots in the Republican Party going back to his family in Etowah. “I love politics,” Melton said. “I enjoy being your commissioner, and I’m very, very conservative. I’m in my 12th year, and I look forward to serving.”
Susan Mills, chair of the party, said she liked what she heard from the candidates. “I think we had a great forum,” she said. “I’m impressed with our candidates. I couldn’t have wished for any better.”
Maryville attorney Duncan Crawford served as master of ceremonies. “I really am impressed with the quality of the candidates we have running,” he said.