The men and women running for Blount County Commission are as different as their backgrounds but they all have one goal - winning a seat on the horseshoe.
Every occupant of the horseshoe, the bench where the commissioners sit during meetings, are up for election and while three have chosen to retire, the remaining 18 are vying for their jobs. And many have competition -- some within their party, some from the opposing party, some from both.
Some of the Blount County commission candidates are locals, some moved here from as far away as Florida. Some stress dealing with debt while other focus on growth. Each says they are the person for the job to represents residents in their district.
Eighteen of the 42 commission candidates gathered at the League of Women’s Voters forum in a packed house in the Sharon Lawson Room of the Blount County Public Library to share their views on Monday, April 19.
Brandon Cook, Democrat, running for District 1 Seat A currently held by Tonya Burchfield, a Republican -- Cook said he is a fifth generation Blount County resident who grew up in Friendsville on a farm. “Whenever I was growing up, I loved playing hide-and-go-seek, but I always wanted to hide. Now I want to be a seeker. We have to seek out justice, and we have to look for solutions to problems. If I’m elected, I will seek out solutions,” he said.
Cook said in this campaign he would talk about education and economic development because the two issues go hand in hand. “We’re not going to agree on every single thing but stick with me, and we’ll get through this time,” he said.
David Ballard Jr., Democrat incumbent for District I Seat B is being challenged by Shawn Carter Sr., a Republican. Ballard said that in looking at the issues he sought out before his first term four years ago, he realized they remain the same. “Education, infrastructure and job growth -- that is a continual cycle for local government. You have to continually find ways to fund them,” he said.
Ballard said the county has definitely benefited from the growth of the assessed value of property. “It has enabled us to go on without a tax increase. What I am feeling is that the next four years will be a challenge,” he said. “I’d prefer to get lean and look for that funding in our own government.”
Shawn Carter Sr., said he is known as a tireless worker. “We have to come up with new ideas. We have to bring more business to our city,” he said.
Carter outlined his work history with the Department of Defense, his time in the U.S. Army before he was discharged with an injured back and his current job with the United States Postal Service. “I’ve been in public service my whole life. I want our county and community to be the best it can be,” he said.
Everett Hoy, Independent, is running for District II, Seat A against incumbent Brad Harrison, a Republican. “I’m tired of what is going on,” said Hoy. “We have a balloon payment of $42 million next July and we need to take care of it,” he said of a loan payment the county must either pay or refinance from projects such as school construction. “I’m a good, decent and hard-working person. I’m running, and I’d like to keep taxes low, protecting people’s property rights and our Second Amendment rights. This is why I’m running,” he said..
Richard Hutchens, Independent, is running for District III, Seat A, against incumbent Steve Samples, a Republican who also serves as commission chair. “Americans are awaking to realize something is terribly wrong with their government,” said Hutchens. “They know if we don’t take control, our grandchildren will blame us for not being guardians of liberty,” he said. “Our freedom and liberty is being threatened. Why does it matter who we elect locally? How does that have anything to do with what going on in Washington, D.C.? All politics is local.”
Hutchens said a good political house-cleaning is in order. “Blount Countians deserve better government. I’m running as an independent candidate. Let’s vote for the best candidate, not the political party,” he said.
Jim Melton, Republican, is running for District III, Seat B against Mike Caylor, a Republican. Melton shared his experience as military veteran, his time serving in the community and his experience as a business man. Melton said the county does have enormous debt. “Obviously at some point, with so much debt in variable rate issues, they should be refinanced at a fixed rate,” he said. “One proposal is a 75/25 ratio with 75 percent in fixed rates and 25 percent in variable rates.”
Melton said he will always listen to different opinions. “My one promise is I will always remember it is your money,” he said.
Jerry Lee Harvey, Republican, is running for District IV, Seat A, against incumbent Gary Farmer, a Republican. “I’m one of the few candidates who isn’t from here. I grew up on a beach in Florida,” Harvey said.
Harvey said after a stint traveling around the world while in the U.S. Navy, he realized he missed rural community values, so he moved to Blount County with his family 14 years ago.
Harvey said he is concerned with zoning. “A man should be able to do what he wants on his property unless it infringes on other rights,” he said. Harvey said the county commissioners and department heads need to learn the difference between needs and wants. “We need to spend money on needs and get rid of debt,” he said.
Wendy Pitts Reeves, incumbent Democrat is running for re-election in District IV, Seat C and is being challenged by Republicans Jerome Moon and Billy Gribble. “I’m a wife, business owner and someone who loves Blount County. I know how to ask questions and get information to make informed decisions,” she said.
Reeves said one big issue facing the county is its debt. “I’ve been talking about that for a year now. Another issue is spot zoning,” she said.
Reeves said public input is also a hot button issue. “I care so much about your input. How do I know what to do if I don’t hear from you? I don’t care if you don’t agree with me, you have a right to say it,” she said. “I need you to show up in August so I can continue to stand up for you.”
Tony Webb, Democrat, is running for District X, Seat A, against incumbent Gerald Kirby, a Republican. Webb is also the chair of the Blount County Democratic Party and is a cardiovascular tech.
“I want to talk to you about the future of Blount County. Education is key but just because someone does not graduate high school does not mean there aren’t jobs,” he said. “As we look at education, you’ve got to have better schools. Our students must be equipped, so we must look to teachers. They’re on the front line.”
Webb said he would put in the time to be a good representative. “I’m willing to work, study and listen to you, the citizens,” he said.
Izaak Standridge, Independent, is running for District V, Seat A, against incumbent Peggy Lambert, a Republican. “In my 25 years I’ve had the opportunity to give feet to my ideas,” said Standridge. “I spent three months in Africa volunteering in an orphanage, and I am a kidney donor,” he said.
Standridge said he favors simply making the sacrifice to pay off debt. “County debt refinancing does not fix problems, it postpones them,” he said. “Let’s look at county finances. I will be elected to be an advocate for taxpayers, which is exactly what I’ll do.”
Rick Carver, Republican, is running for District V, Seat B, against incumbent Bob Proffitt, Democrat. Carver said he is a native of Blount County, his father was a Maryville firefighter, and he is a respiratory therapist at East Tennessee Medical Center. “I have submitted budgets of half a million dollars, and I know how to handle budgets,” he said. “I’m fiscally conservative. I know the difference between what you need and what you want to have. The most important thing is being able to listen.”
Bob Proffitt, incumbent Democrat, is running for re-election to District V, Seat B. Proffitt recalled how, as he was a child growing up on a farm in Blount County, his father would leave periodically to go to what was then known as the county court. “He said I never feel at ease if I’m here, and they’re there.” Proffitt said his father believed in local public service.
“There are lots of problems and lots of pushing and shoving in local politics, but I’m competitive. and I like pushing and shoving,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed being on commission. It takes a team to do it.”
Sherri Turner, Republican, is running for District VI, Seat A, against incumbent Republican Holden Lail, Republican Steve Hicks, and Democrat Gary Wynn. “I’m a person like you who believes in small communities and small government,” said Turner. “I’ve attended community meetings, and if you vote for me, your voice will be heard.”
Gary Wynn, Democrat, is running for District VI, Seat A. He said he spent his first 28 years serving himself and the next 20 years he served his family. “I’m prepared to serve you in the next four years. These are extremely dire times. Jobs will be my number one challenge though. Blount County must be centered on growing industry,” he said. “Allow me the opportunity, and I’ll help solve those issues we face, and Blount County can become the beacon of jobs and technology we know it can be.”
Jim Folts, Republican, is running for District VII, Seat A, against incumbent Steve Hargis. “Blount County needs a commissioner who anticipates problems and responses, not a commissioner who awaits issues and proposes expensive solutions,” he said. “We need commissioners who listen to you and act on situations before they become a crisis.”
Tom Cole, Republican, is running for District VII, Seat B, against Republican Tom Greene. Incumbent David Graham is retiring. “I’ve lived in Blount County 17 years, and I went to Michigan State. I decided to get involved because people’s rights are being taken slowly, and we need someone who will work for us,” he said. “The important issues are the debt, jobs, education and roads. I will listen to your concerns, and I’ll be responsive.”
John Templeton, Republican, is running for District VIII, Seat A, against James Taylor and Roy Gamble. Incumbent John Keeble is retiring. “I have no doubt the issue in Blount County is growth,” Templeton said.
Templeton said many feel their county government is not responsive. “People should stand up and speak up and government should provide opportunities to hear them,” he said. “I have the education, experience and will do this job and get this job done.”
John “Jay” Polk, Independent, is running for District VIII, Seat A, against incumbent Mike Walker and challenger Gordon Wright, both Republicans. “We could vote for the same politicians but with these difficult problems, vote for independent candidates with new ideas. We’ll have commissioners who actually work,” he said. “This will not be easy. There will be hard decisions, but let (the tough times) come to me and not my children. Let’s take the difficult path. I’m willing to make the tough decisions today to make tomorrow better.”