Going head to head: Candidates get ready to square off in upcoming Mayor’s race - Mike Rutherford
By Karen Sells
Rutherford was elected county commissioner in 1986 and appointed county zoning administrator at the end of his four-year term.
While he didn’t see a dual role as a good fit, he chose to remain involved as an employee. He says his work as zoning administrator has already prepared him for a job that requires working with a variety of personalities and opinions.
The key is communication, according to Rutherford. Providing information on statutes and opinions allows him to take his personal opinion out of a conflict while offering the education needed to make decisions.
“It’s the method I use individually with Planning Commission members, and it has proven to be successful,” he said. “When you take yourself out of the dictator position and into a more cooperative role, the pressure is relieved.”
Rutherford also would expect a smooth transition into a leadership role among Washington County staff members.
“We have seasoned employees, many who’ve had a lot of time on the job, and our offices have worked together,” he said. “They know that results are all that matter.”
If elected, Rutherford would not seek the post of commission chair. “There are distinct differences between the mayor and the legislative branch, and I think they need to regulate themselves,” he said. “I would spend that time bringing documentation to help in making decisions.”
Rutherford enjoys providing the answers and helping commissioners reach a solution, similar to the role he fills now.
“Since I was a county commissioner and now an employee, maybe I see that need more than others,” he said. “It goes along with transparency and accountability.”
One change Rutherford would like to see is a quicker turnover of the meeting minutes, with distribution to the commission and staff occurring within days of the meeting. “I would recommend sharing the information rather than waiting until the end of the month to read about a meeting that happened during the first week,” he said.
Improved communication also could be a tool in uniting the growing divide among commissioners on a host of issues. “As mayor, I would sit down and discourage them from approaching issues without all of the information,” he said.
Conflicts needs to be worked out at the committee level rather than the commission floor, according to Rutherford. “If I have to do a ton of research to help the committee come to the right decision, they will have the printed information so they can stand up in the commission meeting and articulate their opinions.”
When it comes to funding priorities, Rutherford says schools represent the largest opportunity. “If we’re behind in some areas and still facing annual challenges due to mandates, the question becomes, ‘how can we get ourselves competitive?’”
While he said the sharing requirement with Johnson City schools is a big pill to swallow, the county should not be looking for any creative way to get around it. “This is the way the state legislators intended it, and it’s not something we should mess with.”
Though he recognizes the expense of the schools long-range facilities plan, Rutherford said there may be some breathing room that would enable the county to complete the plan over time. “It’s a battle I’ll have to deal with,” he said, noting the county would need to pay something off before acquiring additional debt to help the schools.
As far as the list of capital projects approved with last year’s bond offering, Rutherford said each one needs to be viewed as a potential tax increase if the approach (toward completion) is piecemeal.
Based on his years of experience with the Zoning Office budget, Rutherford said he believes the cost to operate most of the county departments has stabilized.
“We’re all in this together” is the message and mindset Rutherford hopes to convey.
Rutherford believes barriers between Johnson City, Jonesborough and Washington County need to come down. “We don’t need to be fragmented anymore,” he said, suggesting members of the three planning commissions and the three legislative commissions sit down at the table and work together for solutions.
Though annexation is a very intense process that requires give-and-take on both sides, Rutherford said he is probably the only person left in local government who has read every annexation ordinance the City of Johnson City has written since 1989.
An added benefit for Washington County is his observance of the entire history of the extension of utilities.
“I’m all for one, and we do not need to be competitive among ourselves,” he said. “What’s good for Johnson City and Jonesborough is good for the county.”
Rutherford said he was born and educated in Washington County and wants it to be all it can be.
Information on candidate Dan Eldridge can be found in our "Local News" tab.