By MARINA WATERS
Last week, Washington County Commissioner Joe Grandy announced his intention to run for Washington County Mayor. But for Grandy, that vision was one he never really pictured until recently.
“I never envisioned what I’m considering today,” Grandy said when he sat down with the Herald & Tribune just days before announcing his candidacy. “One of the things about this community is that it’s blessed myself, my family and our business with a good piece of life.
“When I look at the roles I’ve taken on with boards and organizations and so forth, it’s been a way to give back to the community because it’s given so much to me. So this is an opportunity right now that allows me to pursue that in a different way, but in a larger way.”
Grandy is the president and general manager of Ferguson Enterprises Inc., after working with the company for 40 years. He’s also been a county commissioner since elected in 2010, just after he began voicing his concern for area school facility funding.
“(Becoming a commissioner) really had a lot to do with the decisions around the financing of the schools that were started in 2005 and the funding mechanism that was put in place in 2007,” Grandy said. “I felt like that was not a good process and that county government owed it to the constituents paying for that to do a better job putting it together.
“I have to admit that I didn’t exactly understand how bad that plan was until I became a county commissioner. I complained about it to enough people who reminded me when the 2010 election came around, ‘You complained about that a lot, why don’t you just go do something about it?’ I was a little bit shamed into running and so I did.”
Grandy lists cutting down the cost of the commission by doing away with health insurance for county commissioners and reducing the size of the commission from 25 to 15 as an accomplishment since his time with the commission. However, Grandy said he is still dedicated to the focus that first caught his interest — education.
Not only has education been a “passion” for Grandy, but he said he’s been rather involved with the funding process for the county’s capital projects due to his role as the commission’s budget committee chairman.
“I’m intimately involved in the process,” he said. “Good or bad, I certainly have a lot of information surrounding (the school projects). I’m not a contractor anymore, so I don’t claim that skill set, but we are involved in the construction business daily. It’s a part of my life. So it’s interesting and I enjoy working on it.”
School facility projects have been at the forefront for education in the county in recent years, but the commissioner is also hoping the school system can add more career and technical options and technology for students.
Maybe more than technology though, Grandy is also hoping to level the playing field for internet access in the county through the local energy provider, which recently adopted a new name, Brightridge.
“As this new authority has come into being, it allows that organization to explore different business opportunities,” Grandy said. “And of course one of them is this broadband expansion.
“It’s easy for these businesses to hit high-density areas because you’re close together and you make money. But when one farm is a mile away from the next farm, there’s no amount of business model you can put on that where it makes sense financially. The electric companies back in the early part of the 20th century took electricity where people where. And I think we need to do the same thing with the internet.”
Grandy said he’s also hoping to continue his involvement with other needs throughout the county such as the consideration of adding daytime fire personnel to area volunteer fire departments and the county’s water projects.
The commissioner, who has also been the chairman of the county commission’s water task force, said there are still 17,000 Washington County citizens that don’t have access to municipal water.
“We have provided quality drinking water to folks a mile or two outside of Jonesborough that had third-world drinking water conditions before that — people sharing contaminated wells, intermittent depending on the amount of rain,” Grandy said. “I mean, it’s crazy to think that those conditions exist in Washington County today. We need to focus on fixing that.
“It’s not easy because there’s not a financial business model that makes that work. But sometimes where that’s the case, and public safety is involved, maybe that’s a function of government, to help those situations.”
When he first became a part of local government, Grandy said his hope was to create efficiency in government and practice good stewardship for Washington County taxpayers.
Now the county commissioner is also hoping he can build upon his initial goal through the plan to decrease the county’s debt, which was part of Dan Eldridge’s work as county mayor.
“I think that Dan as the mayor has moved county government in a different direction through his term. For the first time in anyone’s memory that I can recall, there’s a long-range plan for Washington County,” Grandy said. “The plan contemplates taking Washington County completely out of debt in 2037. I think that county government is just in a completely different place than it was seven years ago. So to be able to build on the plan that is currently in place is exciting to me.
“I won’t be probably anything like Dan was as mayor, but I think that some of his initiatives make a lot of sense. They really provide me an opportunity to provide a level of stewardship to Washington County following that plan.”