Election 2018: 5 residents in contention for City Council openings

Published 9:50 pm Friday, October 5, 2018

With four spots available, five city residents have put their names in the ring to serve on the City Council of Elizabethton.

Three of the candidates are incumbents: Bill Carter, Richard Tester and Wes Frazier. Two challengers in this election include Mike Simerly and Richard Barker. Current City Council member Sam Shipley was in the running but chose to not run citing health concerns.

With a crowded pool of candidates, the Elizabethton Star took time out to ask questions for the public to have some more insight when heading to the polls. Each candidate was asked the same question and they provided responses back either in hard copy or by email. Here are the responses for each individual.

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Question 1 – What are the top three issues affecting the City of Elizabethton. 

Bill Carter: Emphasis on maintaining on what we have and not regressing from where we are now. Progression is the key challenge for which direction we want to go. I am certainly interested in the economic development of our City and the direction it is going. We must spend and use our tax money wisely. We need to recruit businesses to locate here both manufacturing and retail to include tourism support with all our beautiful natural resources. This will provide our citizens with a job as well as provide for a tax base to help maintain services. We must keep our city neat and clean in order to make it more inviting to the outside. Immediate issues are negotiation and funding to renew the contract with the Minnesota Twins and the future of selling the Elizabethton Electric Department to BrightRidge pending such study and action of board of directors, City Council and City referendum.

Mike Simerly: 1) Short and long term planning. A strategic short term (five years) and a long term (10 years) business plan is critical to the success of any business venture. Running a city is no different than running a business and we must have solid financial, logical and obtainable plans in place for both the short and long term planning process. 2) Better utilization of our natural resources. Elizabethton has the most beautiful downtown area of any surrounding downtown within the region period.  What downtown do you know that has a beautiful river with a historic wooden Covered Bridge that crosses that river?  We need additional plans for more community events for downtown and needed funding to complete the ASU college park plan with restrooms for the Covered Bridge Park.  We could have some major fishing tournaments on both the Doe and Watauga Rivers that would bring a lot of tourist dollars to the city.  On any given Saturday night (April – October) we have visitors from numerous states (NC, VA, SC and occasionally KY) for the Carter County Car Club car show. 3) Responsible fiscal decision. Our tax base is low and our needs are great so we must plan and budget the funds we have very carefully.  We need to carefully analyze all financial decisions in order to make informed decisions with our available resources.  We could explore more ways to obtain grants and other sources of funding for improvements without any additional burden on the taxpayers.

Richard Barker: The top three issues facing the City of Elizabethton are, in my opinion, Industrial Development, Commercial and Retail Development and the utilization of natural and city-owned resources. Like any city or town in the nation, the recruitment of industry of any size is a daunting task. However, perhaps we need to work very closely with the State of Tennessee to attract small or medium sized industrial clients. Our city airport and highway system are assets. Commercial and retail development is perhaps a more realistic task, especially when there are benefits to expanding our tax base (both realty and sales taxes). I think that the City should be progressive in attempting to locate new owners or tenants in vacant buildings in both the downtown and outlying areas. Many of these structures, with renovation, could accommodate retail, commercial or restaurant occupancy. We need to better promote and utilize our natural resources and city-owned facilities. Many communities would love to have the water resources we possess. From pure drinking water to recreational use, this is an asset we should promote. We also need to maintain our affiliation with the Appalachian League and keep professional baseball in Elizabethton. Whether it is the Minnesota Twins or another organization, we need to make the necessary improvements, especially for the fans, to Joe O’Brien Field.

Richard Tester: Economic development/tourism. I’m supporting efforts as well as so many others to build strong relationships with Carter, Washington, Unicoi, and Sullivan counties. With limited resources and competing nationally for jobs we must do our very best to work together. Here in Elizabethton we must continue to work steadfast in the redevelopment at Watauga River TIF district and talk about creating a redevelopment district for Downtown Elizabethton. Regardless of what the economic initiative is we must come together to aid our town. Two is utility infrastructure. No one wants to pay more for water, sewer, and electric. We must continue to invest now so that we don’t have to pay more later. It’s like preventive maintenance for your vehicle. If you don’t spend $30 changing the oil periodically you could have to purchase a new vehicle. We must be willing to invest a little now to save for the future of our town and its future leaders who would bear the cost. I will continue do my best to be efficient in these areas and know that our investments and our rates are going to be kept as low as possible while being responsible to the future of Elizabethton. Three would be property taxes. With state shared revenues continuing to decrease and development across the city less than desired at times, we must continue making this one of our priorities so property taxes do not increase. Let us continue investing in Historic Downtown Elizabethton, Covered Bridge Park, Parks and recreation.

Wes Frazier: A) Jobs – We need to work with the county and our economical partners from other counties to bring in more jobs. We also need to focus on existing companies and continue to help them grow. I feel we live in one of the best places in the world and we need focus on tourism and bringing visitors to our area. Tourism will bring jobs and tax dollars to the area.

B) Development – Currently there is a lack of land available for development which is a challenge to the job area. We need to work with current landowners to reach a common ground to purchase available tracts of land.

C) Infrastructure – We need to focus on our aging water lines and paving our roads as budget allows. This ties into bringing jobs into the area as potential employers look at the condition of our infrastructure.

Question 2 – How have you already been volunteering or serving the city? 

Bill Carter: I am currently a sitting Elizabethton City Councilman seeking reelection. I am the chairman of the Oversight Committee for the Elizabethton/Carter County Veterans War Memorial and Veterans Walk of Honor, which deals with the overall maintenance of our beautiful tribute to our veterans. Active member of the Elizabethton Downtown Business Association serving as a vice president. Hold office as Mayor Pro Tem currently on Council. I also serve on the following: Wastewater Regulation Appeals Board, Beverage Board, and the Health and Education Facilities board. I am a past member of the Tweetsie Trail Task Force, Friends of Sycamore Shoals State Park, Planning Commission, Zoning Appeals Board and Parks and Recreation Board.

Mike Simerly: Currently both my wife Denise and I belong to the Elizabethton Lions Club, which is a wonderful community service organization helping our children and adults with eye care needs as well as numerous tree plantings along the Tweetsie Trail and other projects.  Additionally, I serve as a board member on Carter County Proud which recently gained full affiliate status as a member of Keep America Beautiful.  Carter County Proud is working with Carter County to implement “The Wayfinding Grant” recently received to erect road signs to help with out of town tourist to locate the numerous nature areas that we have which are difficult to locate. My wife and I also volunteer at our church for holiday meal preparations, the Recovering Soldier Ministry, church maintenance, the Roan Mountain summer mission trip as well as the Covered Bridge Celebration mission.

Richard Barker: I have served on several city boards over the years. I was a member of the Elizabethton Twins Baseball Committee during the late 1970s and early 1980s. I served as a member of the Elizabethton/Carter County Public Library Board from 1993 to 2018, serving as board chairman from 1993 until 2015. I am a 41-year member of the Elizabethton Kiwanis Club and charter member of the St. Elizabethton Council of the Knights of Columbus. I currently serve on the City of Elizabethton Industrial Development Board.

Richard Tester: Presently I continue to serve on City Council and have for the past eight years. Past president and current member of Carter County/ Elizabethton Chamber of Commerce. Chairman of the joint economic development board.

Wes Frazier: I have served on the City Council for four years. During that time I have served or currently am serving on seven boards. I continue to meet with the public and try to solve issues as they are brought to my attention.

Question 3 – If elected, how will you solicit input from areas of the city outside of where you live? 

Bill Carter: Networking is a always a valuable asset to see how “the other half of the world lives.” The electronic media is a very valuable resource. Attending and participation in seminars and conferences such as the Tennessee Governor’s Conference is a valuable resource. In working with adjoining areas, I had the pleasure of representing the City of Elizabethton on the Tweetsie Trail Task Force, which is a joint effort between Elizabethton and Johnson City in order to provide a recreational venue our citizens can enjoy. I also support the regional concept for economic development. Good cooperation with each other and everybody wins. We have full-time staff for the City which helps with soliciting from other areas given proper guidance.

Mike Simerly: You must be active within our community and get out and talk with our citizens.  Any Saturday night (April – October) you will find me downtown at the car show and June through August my wife and I are season ticket holders to the Elizabethton Twins.  Additionally, I attend our numerous city and county high school sports events which provides a great opportunity for input from our city residents from all parts of the city from East Side to Pinecrest. You must be active and be out at our numerous city events and be available to our community.I think another good avenue of seeking out our citizens would be to have City Council members staff a “table” at several of the community functions with notice to the public to come and voice your concerns to the City Council.  Today’s society is very connected via social media whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Messenger, etc. and this is an excellent and cost effective method of communication with our community of which I currently utilize.

Richard Barker: I will always be readily accessible to anyone needing to speak with me about city matters. My telephone number is listed in the book and I return all messages.

Richard Tester: Social media are the tools I use currently. Going to Chamber breakfasts, Downtown Business Association meetings, and supporting and attending our school programs are just a few.

Wes Frazier: I am a “people person” and have and will continue to welcome calls, visits, emails, etc. from anyone within or outside of the area where I live. I welcome ideas and feedback (positive and negative) from all citizens.

Question 4 – If you are not elected, what would you do to help work on the issues that are important to you? 

Bill Carter: First of all, I feel I can be most helpful as an elected councilman. Issues important are continued development of the downtown area. Maintaining the appearance of the Veterans War Memorial and Veterans Walk of Honor. Focus on the industry of tourism. I would be willing to consider serving in any capacity when asked that would continue to keep Elizabethton moving forward.

Mike Simerly: The Covered Bridge Park, Elizabethton Twins and the wonderful Bonnie Kate Theater are just a few of the many city treasures that are close to my heart that I will continue to support. I will also continue to support and work to improve our community through my civic organizations, my church as well as my family to support and be an outspoken advocate for our city. Additionally, I will continue to attend city meetings and functions and be a continued advocate for shopping, eating locally and supporting our downtown merchants. To make change you must be involved within your community and I have worked and will continue to support numerous candidates seeking local and statewide offices.

Richard Barker: If not elected, I will continue to work for the betterment of the city as I do now. As a member of the Elizabethton Twins Task Force, I will continue to submit my feelings and concerns for Minor League Baseball operations.

Richard Tester: Being a business owner, I would partner up with local business owners to continue their efforts to remind the community how important it is to shop local and how much more that money they spend locally stays here to us and our neighbors be more prosperous. I would also continue to be supportive and involved with leaders in an effort to work together for things good for in our community.

Wes Frazier: I would continue to serve in any capacity where I am needed. I love this city and the people and want to continue to serve however and wherever I can have an impact to better this community.

Question 5 – What is your general message to the public for the 2018 election

Bill Carter: As a current sitting Elizabethton City Councilman, I feel I have represented my constituents in a manner that would merit another term on City Council. I have taken the interest of the citizens of Elizabethton to heart and have asked for feedback concerning issues which are of particular interest. I know we live in the best place in the United States. We are a unique community in a most positive manner. We have a community which is genuinely interested in the welfare of each other. I seek the vote and support from each of you by allowing me to serve another term as your councilman. Thank you for taking the time to read these answers.

Mike Simerly: Please get out and vote. This is a very important election where we Tennesseans will be electing a new Governor, US Senate, US Congressman and city officials. I was born and raised in Central Community (Carter County) to Norman (Wormy) and Phyllis (deceased) Simerly and I have two brothers Mark and Matthew. I’m happily married to my high school sweetheart Denise Hart Simerly and have a daughter Hannah Lyons. My wife and I are members of First Baptist Church of Elizabethton. My father has (4) brothers (Lynn (deceased), Ed, Kenny and Rick). My fondest memories of Elizabethton elections from the early 1960s are working in my grandfather’s (Conley T. “Red” Simerly) campaign for County Commissioner and his last position was Magistrate when he died while holding office. Additionally, I had an uncle who was a US Congressman and local Chancery Judge (Dayton Phillips) – so you can see that is why I have such a passion to serve and promote our town. My day job has taken me to several cities across the US and because of those experiences I feel I could bring a new perspective and fresh eyes on the advantages that our fine city offers. Our City Council must work harder and smarter in the future. I’ve had the opportunity to serve on appointed positions for the City of Concord, NC (Historic Preservation Commission) as well as numerous previous board responsibilities (Lion’s Club-Concord, NC – Community Watch Treasurer – Historic Concord Board and other food industry boards).

Richard Barker: Perhaps more importantly than in recent years, it is imperative that everyone exercises their right to vote in this election. Participation and input from the general public is of paramount important. Thank you.

Richard Tester: I would be honored and blessed to continue to serve the citizens of Elizabethton and promise to continue to work toward making Elizabethton a better place to work, live, and raise your family.

Wes Frazier: First, I want to encourage everyone to vote. Regardless if I am re-elected or not, I think we all need to exercise our right to vote. I feel I have kept my word and my promises to the taxpayers and hope to continue to serve to see current ideas and projects through to the finish. There are a lot of positive things our current council is working on and I think we can make Elizabethton continue to grow.