Citizens of East Ridge had the opportunity to meet and hear six of the seven candidates running in the Nov. 6 election for two city council positions at a Monday night candidate forum at Spring Creek Elementary School. Each contender gave their views of issues facing East Ridge by answering questions that came from the audience.
Patricia Cassidy has been a paralegal for 25 years mostly in the real estate and title business, and has lived in East Ridge 12 years. She said she has seen changes for the worse during that time and wants to see a return to the nice “Main Street” city that she originally moved to. She believes that East Ridge has been focusing on the wrong type of economic development by allowing businesses such as firework stores, cash checking companies, tattoo parlors, pawn shops, used car lots, extended stay motels and even a sex shop to line Ringgold Road. Her focus would be to clean up the city from these type businesses to make it more attractive to more traditional stores and restaurants.
Ms. Cassidy thinks the city could reduce expenses by eliminating the buy-back off duty time policy. She believes that the city attorney position could be filled with a young full-time employee who would accept a starting salary of around $60,000 plus benefits, versus the part time salary of $160,000 she said the city is now paying. She also believes the city manager is overpaid but since City Manager Tim Gobble has balanced the budget with a surplus, she thinks he’s doing an OK job. Ms. Cassidy doesn’t want to waste any more time or money dwelling on the selection process for city clerk, saying there are more important issues.
Candidate Marc Gravitt is a fourth generation resident of East Ridge. He is a small business owner of Gravitt Auctions and Appraisals, and has been past president of East Ridge Merchants Association and East Ridge Revitalization. He opposed the city allowing four fireworks stores to open in the city limits last July. Mr. Gravitt told the audience that he could find cuts to make before raising any taxes. Instead, he would prefer to reduce expenses by making policy changes such as eliminating overtime pay for code enforcement personnel by reducing their work hours by the number of hours they are required to be in court. He also favors eliminating the city buy-back off duty time for employees which he said should save around $300,000 yearly.
East Ridge has the highest paid city attorney in the state of Tennessee, Mr. Gravitt said. It is his belief that the city should have a binding contract with legal counsel and should stick to the compensation in that agreement. As for his assessment of City Manager Tim Gobble, he thinks Mr. Gobble should spend less time on Facebook and more on economic development and improving the city. Concerning the suspension of the city court clerk, Mr. Gravitt said that if people don’t do their jobs, they should be dismissed, but that the selection of the clerk by election should not happen until 2014. In order to prevent gang activity and get youth involved in the community, Mr. Gravitt believes that the city should rebuild a community pool and tennis courts. Reserve police should be utilized to supplement the 33 full time officers and arrests should be made when laws are broken, he said. He believes the schools should work with their representative to the Hamilton County School Board, David Testerman, and that East Ridge should utilize other services the county offers. He also said that the council should work with the city manager without an adversarial relationship.
Mimi Lowry has come to city council meetings for the past 25 years, has lived in the city for 33 years, and has been involved in many civic groups and volunteer programs. She has run three businesses managing their budgets, and now does freelance graphic arts and portraits. Her platform is to curb runaway spending and to renew pride in the city. Her plan for economic development is to apply for grants that the city would match, and to help existing businesses improve their images in order to look more prosperous which should attract other businesses. She does not think it was wise to allow four fireworks stores to open all at once in order to receive tax income from just the July 4 holiday, only to have the companies close their doors July 5. She does not believe in tax increases and believes there are things that could be cut from the budget to save money. She also thinks that the government organization should be changed because she said it is top heavy in management. She believes that the city should offer flex-time, but not overtime. She also would like to create the position of economic development director.
East Ridge needs a full time attorney on staff, not a part time employee, Ms. Lowry believes. As a part time attorney, she said, the more trouble the city is in, the more he makes. The question she asked is how many lawsuits has John Anderson won. Some lawsuits have been hanging around four-five years she said. It is her belief that the city could hire a full time attorney for $80,000. A city manager should be over all offices, she told the audience, but now East Ridge has a long chain of command. She also thinks Mr. Gobble should spend more time being a supervisor as opposed to posting things to Facebook. Concerning the issues involving the city clerk and money owed to the city, Ms. Lowry asked if it might be the fault of the person that the clerk answers to. She added that an election to determine that position should not be until 2014. She thinks that gang activity could be tackled by increasing programs in the community centers after school to keep youth busy, but she said it is ultimately up to the parents. She also would utilize the reserve police force to patrol at night.
The most important issues in this campaign to candidate Stephen King are to encourage the community to get behind the schools, and to increase revenues for the city. He encourages citizens to patronize East Ridge businesses which would increase income for the city, rather than raising taxes. He said that he believes city government should be transparent and that the commission’s responsibility is to the city. He believes East Ridge should apply for matching federal grants to bolster economic development and he thinks more thought should have been put into the decision to allow fireworks stores in the city.
Mr. King gave Mr. Gobble a grade of “C”. He said the city manager’s responsibility is to work with and oversee others and that you’re only as good as those around you. He suggested that established procedures should be followed rather than a personal agenda, and that if policies and procedures had been followed the situation between the city clerk and Mr. Gobble would not have occurred. Preventive measures should be taken to prevent gang violence in East Ridge, said Mr. King. Kids should be given something to do, such as culinary, electrical, and carpentry youth programs being offered. He told the audience that he was passionate, and not afraid of standing up to the powers that be.
Incumbent Denny Manning has lived in East Ridge most of his life and is retired from the Hamilton County Maintenance and school system. He was the city chaplain for five years before being elected councilman. He told the crowd that the city needs to move forward with new businesses and restaurants, but he doesn’t believe the city should provide incentives. He doesn’t want to give taxpayers’ money to business to get them to locate in East Ridge, “we ain’t in the loan business” he said. Two fireworks stores earned the city $30,000 while they were in operation, he told the audience, and income from two others is still unknown. He acknowledged that some other businesses are needed. He said he would never vote to increase taxes. He would prefer to cut expenses, and one way would be to decline a rumored, $25,000 raise to the city attorney. He said that the lawyer’s compensation should be bound by a contract. In his estimation, Tim Gobble has done a great job, but recently has taken a step back. Mr. Manning said the city manager needs to stop raising salaries and giving bonuses, and buying white furniture that nobody sits in. He also said he thought it should be up to the citizens, not the city manager, to choose a city clerk although he opposes spending $10,000 on a special election.
Councilman Manning said that he wants to build a new city pool and tennis courts at Camp Jordon to get youth involved in the community, but that it should be up to the parents to stop gang problems. He also advocates city programs for senior citizens as well as for young people. The main issues of this election for Mr. Manning are no tax increases, to clean up the city by encouraging people to ask what they can do to help. He would also pursue grant money to encourage business development.
Ann Pruett is wife of former mayor Fred Pruett, and is a lifelong resident of East Ridge. She worked for the city library for 23 years, and is now on the planning committee. Her economic development plans are “retail, retail, retail”, and she said that even though the fireworks stores are tacky, they are bringing in money. The city needs to go find businesses with the help of the merchants association in order to increase income rather than raising taxes. In order to reduce waste and cut spending, Ms. Pruett said she would have to check out each department then follow a process to stay in the budget. Concerning the city attorney, she said she was shocked at the council meetings because every ordinance has been changed or amended, and that alone is a lot on his plate. She also told the audience that having worked under 12 city managers, she would rate Mr. Gobble as an eight or nine. She declined to comment on the situation with the city clerk since there is an on-going investigation. Her view is that if the city had more youth programs, East Ridge wouldn’t need more police. If more are needed now, she would use volunteers.
The most important issues in this election for Ms. Pruett are to ensure that there is teamwork on the council, it shouldn’t be a power struggle, she said. Camp Jordon should be big in the city’s business plan, but the city needs to get retail going. The thing most exciting to her is the Border Act, which has the potential of bringing in revenues.
Candidate John Clemmer did not participate in the forum.