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Making a case: Alderman candidates square off at Jonesborough forum

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

The Jonesborough community was able to join in on a livestream of the Jonesborough Alderman Candidate Forum on Monday night as the five candidates running for the two alderman seats offered up their take on town issues.

The Herald & Tribune with the League of Women Voters of Northeast Tennessee hosted the virtual forum to allow the candidates to give their views on everything from town projects to taxes and post-COVID-19 plans for Jonesborough.

The use of prison labor on town projects was a top area of concern among candidates.

Challenger Lucas Schmidt, who is the house manager for the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre and is also a certified trainer, said the loss of prisoner labor amid the pandemic has left many town projects “hamstrung.”

“The prisoners are a wonderful resource for our town,” Schmidt said, “but COVID has shown us we have been hamstrung on many of our grant-related projects because of that reliance … Being conservative with the number of projects we try to juggle is an obvious and easy choice (to remedy the loss of prisoner labor).” 

Incumbent Terry Countermine, who has been on the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Alderman for almost 20 years, said he felt prioritizing the town’s projects could help.

“We really need to look at the projects,” Countermine said. “We did this at the last BMA meeting, but we need to set priorities. We chose the top five and we are going to try to fund them and get them done. Until we know when that labor is coming back, we need to step back a little bit and look at grants.”

Post-pandemic Jonesborough was also considered.

Challenger Bill Graham, a local businessman who works in relocation after owning his own business for 10 years, said he felt Jonesborough needed to expand its revenue sources.

“We need to work real hard to expand retail growth to help downtown merchants,” Graham said. “The key to Jonesborough’s growth and the key to Jonesborough not raising its taxes is we need to increase our revenue. We increase our revenue by increasing participation in the town as far as the retail side…”

The candidates all said town events are a strong point for Jonesborough and those events could help the town recover from the pandemic. 

Schmidt said he felt restructuring events to ensure safety for tourists while trying to keep a stream of visitors would be ideal.

“I think if we can aim at specific months in the year that we don’t normally have a lot of tourists, it would be a new source of revenue,” Schmidt said. “I like consistency in events. The storytelling festival is something people plan for all year. If we can come up with events that draw a consistent stable flow of people, I think that would be a really good source of revenue.”

The candidates also discussed transparency from the BMA. 

Challenger Jason Greenlee, who has worked for Emergency Medical Services in Jonesborough for over 20 years, said he felt transparency is essential and that slowing down to explain the procedures as meetings progress would benefit the community.

“Transparency is the whole point,” Greenlee said. “Just slowing down and telling the people, ‘we’re giving this person a raise because they’ve been here for a year and it’s their turn’ — it allows everybody to know what those amendments were. We just need to be open.” 

Greenlee also said he felt it was important for an alderman to represent the people above all else.

“I can have my personal thoughts of what I want in the next 10 years, and I will work towards that,” Greenlee said, “but I will work more for what the people want me to work for.”

Graham said many times he would like to see a quarterly town hall meeting for citizens to voice their concerns to the town’s elected officials.

“The bottom line is if we communicate and we strive for the success of the town, we’re going to get there,” Graham said. “It’s not a conversation about telling us what’s wrong; it’s about telling us what we can do to make ourselves better.”

The candidates also took a moment to consider what they feel needs to be considered by members of the BMA. 

For Incumbent Adam Dickson, he said he wants to see a continuation of the “interracial cooperation” in Jonesborough.

“For 52 years an African American has sat on this board,” Dickson said. “Not because of their color, but because this town realizes that interracial cooperation is a path forward. The 10-year vision for me is that we would continue to grow in that space of building community.”

For Countermine, social issues and racial equality are also worth discussing and warrant education.

“It’s everywhere and we need to address it,” Countermine said. “The way we need to address it is to learn more about education. That’s what I’ve tried to do, read and watch movies — documentaries not fiction — and try to learn what we can do.”

To view the forum, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8CI_SJGtU8&feature=youtu.be.