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Wolfe, Fitzgerald square off at Candidates’ Forum

Five of six candidates running for spots on the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen made their opinions known at the candidates’ forum hosted by the Herald & Tribune last week. The topics of those opinions ranged anywhere from how to grow business in the town to why their opponents don’t deserve your vote.
Incumbent Mayor Kelly Wolfe is squaring off against current Alderman Jerome Fitzgerald for the mayor’s position. The pair’s relationship has, in the past, gotten heated during BMA meetings and last week’s forum was no different.
The two took shots at each other from the start, with Wolfe crediting board members Chuck Vest and Mary Gearhart for “stepping up the game” when it came to getting things done, but noticeably leaving out Fitzgerald’s name when discussing the current BMA’s accomplishments.
Fitzgerald fired back, telling the more than 100 people in attendance that he wanted to “bring the mayorship back down to common ground” and “relate to the people of Jonesborough.”
When asked about progress being made at the wastewater treatment plant, Fitzgerald said he had yet to see any plans regarding the projects taking place.
“Until I see some action coming, I really can’t comment on that,” he said, claiming Wolfe gets more information than aldermen regarding the current status of the project.
Wolfe, however, said he got his “inside information” from being a member of the Sewer Task Force. Fitzgerald resigned from the Sewer Task Force last year, after attending just one meeting.
“Meetings take a lot of time,” Wolfe said. “But what you get from meetings, is you get things straight from the horse’s mouth. Nothing really beats being there for yourself.”
Fitzgerald argued that serving on committees is strictly on a volunteer basis and said he had expressed interest in being on some, including the planning commission, but never was asked.
Later in the forum, Wolfe called him out for the comment, saying he had been asked to be a member of the Booker T. Washington committee and had refused.
Fitzgerald contended he was not asked in the right way.
Wolfe again took issue with his opponent after Fitzgerald said he was “totally against a tax increase,” adding that he did not believe he had ever voted for one.
Wolfe produced minutes from meetings in 2003 and 2004, during which Fitzgerald served as an alderman. Property tax increases were unanimously approved both years.
In his closing remarks, Wolfe said he was proud of his accomplishments during the last two years and he believed he deserved to be reelected.
“When you’ve got a good thing going, I think you ought to keep it going,” Wolfe said. “No one person is responsible for making our town what it is, but you need the right quarterback on the team.”
Fitzgerald, however, thinks it’s time for voters to bring in a replacement to serve as the town’s quarterback.
“I wouldn’t be running for mayor if I didn’t think I could handle the job,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s nothing in my mind that I can’t do the job. I think I’m a better mayor than Kelly.”
Incumbent aldermen Mary Gearhart and Chuck Vest also took part in the candidates’ forum last week. A third candidate, David Brown, originally committed to being at the forum, but called the Herald & Tribune the morning of the event to say he would be unable to attend due to an unexpected work conflict.
Vest used Brown’s absence to his advantage when questioned about whether he supported Music On The Square, a weekly event partially funded by the town.
“Since Mr. Brown isn’t here, I’ll answer for him,” Vest said. “In 1999, he voted against forming Music On The Square and Music On The Square is one of the most positive things we’ve got going in this town.”
Vest took another shot at Brown when discussing property tax increases.
Vest called a decision made by the 1999 BMA, which included both Brown and Fitzgerald, to refinance the town’s debt in an interest-only loan “one of the worst financial decisions in Jonesborough history.”
“For 10 years this town paid $4 million in interest and nothing on principle,” Vest said. “When you make those kinds of decisions, that’s when you have property tax increases.”
Gearhart also said she would not support a tax increase, saying increases in 2003 and 2004 were due to “unfortunate management decisions.”
In her closing remarks, Gearhart said she believed the town was in good shape but still faced many challenges.
If elected, she said she would focus on partnering with Washington County to work toward getting a new senior center.
“There are 1,200 members at the senior center. If you stack up everybody in there, you still don’t have enough room,” she said of the current center on Persimmon Ridge Road. “This is our senior center – and that’s most of us.”
Vest, in his closing remarks, let taxpayers know their “money has been well spent.”
“In most elections, I think you have people who are satisfied and you have people who want to see change,” he said. “We’ve done both.”