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County mayoral candidates go head-to-head at forum

Republican mayoral hopefuls sparred over the county mayor’s role in creating jobs during a candidates’ forum held last week in Jonesborough.
Don Arnold, a former Johnson City mayor and commissioner; Dan Eldridge, a Jonesborough businessman; and James Reeves, who led the county anti-wheel tax movement in 2008, faced off over jobs, budget issues and the county’s relationships with Johnson City and Jonesborough.
Arnold said those relationships need work, and part of that unified effort should be to create jobs through cooperation between the mayor and economic organizations.
“We work with the economic council and the economic development board,” Arnold said. “It’s we, not I. It’s a unified effort to bring jobs.”
But Eldridge said as a businessman, he has personally created over 500 jobs and it is the mayor’s perogative to run the county like a business and create those jobs.
“I have done it,” Eldridge said. “I invested money and taken the risk.”
Reeves said both Eldridge and Arnold’s approaches were incorrect.
“The government is not in place to create jobs,” Reeves said. “It can put money back into the tax base. They can create jobs through money back.”
All three said work needed to be done on the county’s relationship with Johnson City and Jonesborough.
Reeves emphasized that the mayor’s role is full-time, and he should attend all municipal meetings in order to listen to the communty.
Arnold said a “change in mindset” was needed, and Eldridge said working together would help improve economic development and infrastructure.
All three agreed that education was underfunded, however, all three also said they would do their best not to raise taxes, even though state and federal funding is slowly trickling to a halt.
The candidates did disagree on how the county should be run, with Eldridge saying it should be run like a business and that his management experience would make him the best mayor.
But Arnold said, “There’s not a business model anywhere I can find that mirrors county government. You can’t use business exprience if elected.”
Finally, Reeves said the government belonged to the people and he intended to make it more accessible and open to the public, including streaming the meetings on the Internet.
County Clerk candidates also faced off.
Ron England, Tony Fowler, Sheila Haren, Kathy Storey and Scott Hyatt are the Republican candidates for the office of County Clerk.
England is a former sheriff and current county commissioner, Fowler works in automotive sales, both Storey and Haren now work in the Clerk’s Office, and Hyatt is in automotive repair.
Fowler said he would like to post a suggestion and comment box, and have the office open later hours and one Saturday a month for easier access. He also said the Clerk does not need a car provided by the Sheriff’s Department, and that he would pay 100 percent of his own expenses if elected.
Most of the candidates said they would seek to implement technological changes to make the office more efficient, such as putting forms online.
But Ron England said after seeing how successfully the office has run for the past 16 years, he’s not sure if changes would help.
“I really wouldn’t make that many changes,” England said, citing that retiring Clerk Doyle Cloyd had run the office the same way for 16 years and had been one of the top vote-getters in elections. “Things must be going pretty good.”
Assessor of Property Republican candidates Forrest Boreing, Scott Buckingham and Steven P. Harris also spoke to the crowd and answered questions.
Boreing is a former industry worker and Harris a licensed Realtor, appraiser and auctioneer. Buckingham is the current property assessor, appointed by the County Commission after Monty Treadway retired in June of last year. Whoever is elected will finish out the two-year unexpired term.
“I was asked by the County Commission to consider taking this position because I have the experience and knowledge and ability to take it,” Buckingham said. He emphasized that he would need no on-the-job training if elected.
Harris said one of his major changes would be to have the county do their own assessments, rather than have the state perform them. He said he would also help make it a “technology-based” assessor’s office.
Buckingham said a lot of the office is already online, but the communication is lacking to tell people about the office’s duty and records.
“We need to educate the citizens,” Buckingham said. “People don’t like going to their mailboxes and seeing a change in their bill. We need an educational program.”
Boreing said he is retired and has 100 percent of his time to devote to the job, and he wants to give back to his community by serving the people in the assessor’s office.