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Candidates: Taxes and spending are big issues

Photo by Brandon Hicks

Carter County Commissioner Charles VonCannon, who is seeking re-election as an Independent in the August General Elementary, is pictured as he addresses the Citizens In Action Candidate Forum Tuesday evening.

Less than half of the registered candidates for the Carter County Commission took part in a candidate forum hosted Tuesday night by the Citizens In Action.
During the forum, candidates from each of the eight districts were given three minutes to explain their qualifications, education, background and why they wanted to be elected to the county commission. Candidates were also asked to tell about their goals and what they believed to be the biggest issues facing Carter County.
Moderator David Miller said all candidates received letters inviting them to the forum and a follow-up call was given after the letter was sent.
First District
From the first district, Freddie Taylor was the lone candidate to participate.
Taylor graduated high school in 1969 and served in the Marine Corps for 21 years. He enrolled at East Tennessee State University in 2002 and graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree. Taylor said he would like to see a review of the property taxes and for citizens to be able to vote on any tax increases before they are passed on to property holders.
“I want people to be able to vote before we raise taxes on them,” Taylor said. “I am tired of homeowners footing the full bill. I want people to be able to speak before the commission votes.”
Other candidates in the first district include William Birchfield, Steven Blevins, Willie Campbell, Gary Perry, Buford Peters, Jerry Proffitt and Gary Sams.
Second District
In the second district, John Bland, Nancy Brown, Mike Hill and Albert Meehan spoke at the forum.
Bland said his background in education, business and finance gave him the skills needed to serve on the commission. He has a master’s degree in teaching, and worked in banking and publishing before becoming a Carter County realtor.
“We need to listen and value the input of our citizens and restore transparency, honesty and integrity back to this commission,” Bland said. “Our biggest challenge will be to get our debt structure back in place.”
Brown has served on the commission for the past eight years. She has also been a member of the budget committee for eight years, and has served on the ethics and nominating committee. She also holds her public servant administrative license.
“I fully support the school system,” Brown said. “There have been rumors out there that say otherwise. I think our taxes need to be lower. I fight hard for the people and will continue to fight for the people. I just hope you’ll support me.”
Hill is running on a platform to improve education in Carter County. He is currently serving as a volunteer art teacher at Cloudland Elementary after the full-time position was lost through attrition after the teacher retired. Hill said it was the commission’s duty to find a way to restore enrichment education to Carter County students.
“We have some great things that have come out of the state of Tennessee,” he said. “Where is the next big thing going to come from? Is it going to come from building a $26 million jail in downtown or educating and inspiring our children?”
Meehan is a former commissioner, serving from 2002-2006. He worked as a missionary pilot to South America for 25 years and as a CEO for a multi-national mission organization after that. He said the commission needs to “be confronting issues and not each other.”
“That would be my objective — to listen, to learn, to investigate the issue that comes before the body and speak when there is something substantive and of value to say,” Meehan said. “The single most important issue would be the public and citizens’ well-being.”
Other second district candidates include Pam Braswell, Paul Campbell and Richard Guinn.
Third District
Third-district commissioners taking part in the forum were Billy Peters, Bobby Tester, Charles VonCannon and Howell Woods.
Peters called for a more responsive commission, one that listened to the citizens before making a decision. His goals included a balanced budget, realistic department budgets, smarter spending, full accountability of all money spent, greater education opportunities for our children, job creation, a county-wide recycling program and a downsized commission.
“Carter County needs a commission that will listen to the citizens, review all the facts and act in the best interest of the citizens,” Peters said. “I am qualified, dedicated and eagerly await the opportunity to serve you.”
Tester is a 1975 graduate of Daniel Boone High School and retired from General Shale after 27 years. He said his goal was to see a change in the county commission.
“My goal is to recognize my district, and serve to the best of my abilities and listen to what they have to say,” Tester said. “I think everyone’s voice should be heard. If you live in Carter County, you have the right to say what you want and it should be heard.”
VonCannon is a current commissioner. He cited his background in education and industrial development as tools that would help him serve the county. He said he had served on all levels of education and was qualified to work as a superintendent. He was involved in the state’s efforts to bring Volkswagen to Tennessee and is still focused on industrial development.
“I know what it is to meet a budget, stay in a budget,” VonCannon said.
Woods said his past experience in the Navy for more than 20 years and with human resources gave him the skills to be a commissioner. He served in Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. He is currently employed as a bus driver for the Elizabethton City School system.
“I am going to be the citizen’s voice,” Woods said. “Schools and education, fiscal solvency, and our infrastructure is the cornerstones we need to focus on. My goal will always be to never forget it is not about Howell Woods. It is about the citizens of the third district of Carter County.”
Fourth District
Jeffery Hughis was the only commissioner from the fourth district to take part in the forum. Hughis said he had never anticipated running for a public office, but felt compelled to after attending meetings.
“I feel this is something I have to do,” Hughis said. “People have been stifled for too long. I understand the issues. I understand budgeting. It seems like our current commissioners don’t get it.”
Other commissioners in the fourth district include Isiah Grindstaff, Louis Tester and Danny Ward.
Fifth District
Fifth district candidates participating in the forum were Timothy Holdren and Scott Snell.
Holdren said he would come to the commission with “no set agenda.” He is a lifetime resident of Carter County and was employed by Texas Instruments from 1983 to 2008. He now works for Energy Systems Group and attends Sinking Creek Baptist Church, where he is a Sunday School teacher and deacon.
“I will make decisions based on common sense and facts,” he said.
Snell said his background was in speech and theater, which was “valuable” because it would allow him to promote Carter County more efficiently.
“We need more oversight in the county and we need more accountability from the commission and each individual department,” Snell said. “There is not one most important thing we need. We should start with good management with resources, people and money.”
Other district five candidates are Howard Duncan, Ross Garland, Bobbie Gouge and Vince Hawkins.
Sixth District
From the sixth district, James Dabbondanza and Larry Miller spoke. John Lewis attended, but did not speak due to dental work done earlier in the day.
Dabbondanza called for a smaller commission, and for a commission that would listen to the concerns of the taxpayers.
“Too many times voices and concerns fall on deaf ears,” he said. “I plan to support constituents and the people of Carter County. We need more accountability of Carter County leaders. Too many dollars are being wasted on projects we don’t need or shouldn’t be concerned with.”
Miller expressed concern over the education system and the high property tax rate. He called for better spending from the county government.
“We can’t spend our way out of debt,” Miller said. “We can’t tax our way out of debt. We need to control spending.”
Other sixth district candidates are Gary Bailey, Eugene Edney, Melvin Jack Jr., Randall Jenkins and Thomas Smith.
Seventh District
District seven candidates at the forum were Bobby Blevins, Ray Lyons and Scott Sams.
Blevins, a Carter County Board of Education member, said he was running for commission to help improve education opportunities. Blevins said he was coming off the school board and wanted to continue to be involved.
“I couldn’t just sit back and hope the county commission makes good decisions,” Blevins said. “I need to get involved and get moving in the right direction. I have been to several meetings. I have never in my life seen such a disrespect for people. We don’t need that. We need to give each other respect and do what is right for the county.”
Lyons, a Vietnam Navy Veteran and former Tennessee Department of Human Services employee, said he would bring leadership skills to the commission.
“There is no doubt we need leadership and teamwork in the county,” Lyons said. “If I am elected, I will not pass on any vote. I will not miss a committee meeting or commission meeting unless I am ill or have a death in family. You can hold me to that.”
Sams is currently a commissioner. He said he would go with a motion to have a downsized commission because that was what the public wanted. He said he would also like for meetings to be held at night when the public could attend instead of during working hours.
“I don’t know that I agree,” Sams said. “That is what the community wants and that is how the commission should be.”
Other seventh district candidates are Richard Burleson, Sonja Culler, Lee Hubbard and Tyrone Simerly.
Eighth District
In the eighth district, Robert Carroll, James Hughes, Cody McQueen and David Nelson took part in the forum.
Carroll, also a current commissioner, said his goal was to see Carter County thrive.
“We have to manage if we will be successful,” he said. “I say have to plan to manage and manage to plan. My goal to is to see Carter County thrive and to compete with surrounding areas, to be a place where people will want to come and live and can come work and play and can raise a family and when they get out of high school can stay and earn a decent living.”
Hughes, an Army veteran and medical care professional, said he had the skills to get Carter County “on the right track.” He added he was running to support Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey in his efforts for the county.
“I believe Humphrey has a vision for the county and the only one with the leadership to lead Carter County in the direction it needs to go,” Hughes said.
McQueen said he would find a way to downsize the commission to 16 members. He said he would also work to make sure the city residents received their services from the county tax base.
“We can be more efficient,” McQueen said. “I hear from people that they don’t get from county taxes what they do from city. I will be looking out for our citizens to make sure they get their share of the pie. I put God first, the constituents and family second and myself last.”
Nelson, a former Carter County Sheriff’s Department employee along with other law enforcement agencies, said he would work with common sense for a more efficient government. “If we don’t start work together as a common sense government to handle needs of citizens, we will have problems in two to three years and the people of county will suffer,” Nelson said. “We have to show business we can work together. If we don’t, it will not draw businesses. We have got to come together and sit down and do for Carter County.”
Other eighth district commissioners are Robert Gobble and Michael Hardin.