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Aldermen race hones in on issues

Candidates for Jonesborough’s two open alderman positions shared their opinions on a number of top issues during a forum sponsored by the Herald & Tribune last week.
Incumbent Chuck Vest is seeking a third term on the board. “I was spurred to run because I wanted to see my kids grow up and stay in Jonesborough,” he said.
In addition, Vest said he is concerned about the finances of the town, and believes the things he has done with his company in the private sector that led to growth can be used in Jonesborough. Vest serves as regional Vice President for Hibbett Sporting Goods.
Nansee Williams, innkeeper of the Carriage House Bed and Breakfast, said she recognizes the impact of one vote and would not take serving in local government lightly.
“It’s obvious to so many that we care about each other, but someone has to lead the band and make the tough decisions that affect our pocketbooks,” she said. “I do not fold under pressure.”
In addition, she believes diversity is key to a well-rounded board. “Men and women think differently,” she said.
David Sell, owner of Olde Towne Ace Hardware, said this race is his first time in the political foray.
A native of Washington County, he said his family decided Jonesborough needed a hardware store 16 years ago, which led to many sleepless nights as they worked to get the business off the ground.
“My sole purpose in running for alderman is to give back to the town who supported us,” he said.
One of the questions submitted referenced the number of empty store fronts downtown and asked candidates to comment on the best course of action to get these filled.
“I think the investment in the sidewalks is one of the first steps,” Vest said, listing residential support as the second. “I think if dollars start coming in, businesses will stay open later.”
An economic development recruiter is another idea the town could consider, he said.
It’s a dollars-and-cents type of thing, according to Sell, but the town has to be a nighttime attraction.
“Jonesborough doesn’t have to model itself after anyone because it’s easier for a small town to get things done.”
Sell said establishing a repeat customer base would enable business owners to see the value in staying open later.
Williams agreed. “We want to get heads in the beds, and it’s frustrating to have people drive in Friday night and not have places to eat and shop,” she said.
“Ambience is what people enjoy, and in Jonesborough, it’s not happening.”
Another question was an opinion on the town’s finances and whether it owes too much.
“Nobody likes debt, whether it’s personal or business, but I think it can keep you hungry,” Sell said, noting the town is head and shoulders above where it was 16 years ago.
“I see and talk to a lot of people, and haven’t seen the town as sound before,” he continued. “Services are better, and the debt will be paid down.”
Williams said residents should want the town’s bond rating to be as high as it can be, and she thinks the town is in very good financial shape.
“It’s not an easy thing to do, but we have been paying off debt at a remarkable speed and will continue to do so.”
Vest said earlier action taken by the BMA was instrumental in the town’s current position. “We had a challenge in the wastewater plant we started tackling during my first two years that could have become bad if it was not fixed,” he said.
In addition, Vest said employee morale was improved by insurance payment adjustments that resulted in the town’s being able to offer salary increases.
The strength of the board members is what led to the accomplishments, according to Vest. “I like to surround myself with people like that,” he said. “We have a good synergy on the board that will allow us to be more successful going forward.”
Sell agreed a team effort is needed, and said he could provide a voice for the business owners on Highway 11E. “You need a good line of communication,” he said. “I’m here for the people, and I’m here to serve.”
Williams said her involvement in the community demonstrates her commitment to Jonesborough.
“I hope we are always creating new opportunities,” she said. “I ask you for your most valuable gift — your vote.”