By LISA WHALEY
General Manager & Editor
Water – the kind coming out of the tap, not the bottles under the chairs – became a major focus at Thursday night’s 2016 Town of Jonesborough Election forum featuring this year’s candidates for the positions of mayor and aldermen.
The event, held at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 20 in the International Storytelling Center, gave a voice to the two mayoral candidates, incumbent Kelly Wolfe and challenger Charlie Moore; and the three alderman candidates vying for two seats, incumbents Terry Countermine and Adam Dickson and challenger Jerome Fitzgerald.
And while compliments flowed freely between the candidates for aldermen, there were more than a few sparks between Wolfe and Moore.
“We have to look at where we are spending our money,” challenged Moore, referencing in part a recent postcard sent out by the town alerting water customers to a recent increased level of halocentric acid, an issue the town has since reported was quickly addressed. “We need to take a good look at the infrastructure. Yes, Jonesborough is a tourism town, but if the people can’t drink the water, they are not going to come to Jonesborough.”
Wolfe, on the other hand, praised Jonesborough’s drinking water, dropping criticisms of its treatment directly back into the lap of Moore, a former alderman.
“We do have good water system, Charlie,” he said. “We are rated 98 by the state. Johnson City is 98, Kingsport is 97 and Bristol is 99.”
While Wolfe acknowledged the fact that “we got what was equivalent to a ticket for jaywalking with some dead end lines having some chlorine byproduct build up in it in it,” he maintained the town was still very proud of its employees at the water department and beyond for all their quality work.
“When I came into office we were losing 61 percent of our finished water before it got to the faucet,” Wolfe said. “And that was because, Charlie, back when you were on the board, regular maintenance wasn’t being done and you weren’t providing the funds needed to make the system as tight as it can be.”
That give-and-take was characteristic of their exchange, as Wolfe repeatedly touted the town’s recent accomplishments, even citing former Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey’s recent praise of Jonesborough after he had driven through town.
“He said, I just wanted to call you and tell you how beautiful your town is and how great a job it looks like you’re doing,’” Wolfe said.
Wolfe said he replied, “It’s a team effort and we’re working on it together.”
Moore, on the other hand, repeatedly called for what he viewed as a badly needed overhaul of the town’s water system, as well as a redirection of priorities.
“You need a balance,” Moore said. “You do want people to come to town,” But a lack of communication, paved streets and an ongoing water problem, he said, are standing in the way.
Other issues tackled included the value of the Jackson Theatre, bringing business to downtown and quality of life issues in Tennessee’s oldest town.
“I term it quality-of-life infrastructure,” Wolfe said in response to a question about arts vs. infrastructure in Jonesborough, adding that it should never be an either-or concept.
“People move to a town because they feel connected to it,” he said. “You would be foolish to try to do one or the other exclusively.”
He also considers the proposed Jackson Theatre “a big component of a major boom that will come to Jonesborough.”
Moore’s take on Jonesborough’s Main Street.
“There is not enough direct communication (in downtown,)” he said, citing too many “spur of the moment things put together.”
And while he said he admired the Jackson Theatre concept, he believes other town problems are of greater importance.
“Our public water is in bad need of repair, from the lines and the quality,” Moore stressed.
As for the three aldermen candidates, each spoke somewhat glowingly of the town’s recent accomplishments, as well as each other.
Fitzgerald, who has 16 years of service as an aldermen under his belt, though he has taken several years off from the public stage, expressed his appreciation to be back in the race, seeking another term on the board.
“What can you say?” Fitzgerald said. “It’s just a great feeling to be back, sitting up here. It’s just part of me (giving back to the town.)”
Dickson, who is seeking his second term, cited the honor he felt when he first got a call from then-Alderman Fitzgerald in 2012 saying he was not going to seek re-election.
At that moment, Dickson said, he felt he was being called to take part in a legacy that was a strong feature of the town’s strength.
“Mr. McKinney was the first African American elected to the board the same night Martin King was assassinated,” Dickson said. “His son served on the board and later became the first African American mayor in Jonesborough, and Mr. Fitzgerald ran and his father would be so proud.
“The idea of giving back, helping somebody, making your community a better place is a noble cause and I feel blessed to have this opportunity.”
As for Countermine, he stressed what he called the importance of giving back, as well.
“I believe in service and volunteering,” he said. “I believe it what’s makes this town what it is and give us the ability to do the many things we have.
“And I would like to give back for another four years.
“We have some projects we have begun that I would like to see complete.”
Election Day is Nov. 8, with early voting to continue until Nov. 3.