Chattanooga City Council candidates from District 1 had the opportunity Thursday night at the Nightside Pachyderm Club to tell what they would like to accomplish and expound on their qualifications. The winner of the March 5 election will replace Deborah Scott who is not running for re-election. Three of the four candidates participated in the forum - Tom McCullough, Chip Henderson and Jim Folkner. Pat Hagan, retired from TVA, was not present.
Tom McCullough holds a bachelors and masters degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a doctorate in education from Vanderbilt University. He is the former principal of Signal Mountain Middle-High School, former headmaster of David Brainerd Christian School and former superintendent of schools in Early and Chattooga County, Ga. He has also served as dean at Chattanooga State Community College and was a principal at Hixson High School.
Mr. McCullough said that he would always do the right thing, even when it is unpopular. He cited several decisions he made in his positions as an education administrator, where his contracts were cut short because of doing this. He described himself as objective, open-minded and patient with a tough skin. His experience working with people to build a consensus is seen as a strong point for the position of city councilman. Mr. McCullough is retired and told the audience that he could be available 24-7 and would keep in touch with people in his district.
If elected, he would focus on leadership. He said the mayor and council need to have good communication. Wise use of resources would also be a concentration. He said Deborah Scott has been the watchdog for the council during her tenure and her successor should follow that example.
Safety is another issue he sees as very important and believes police officers should be able to take cars home. He said in responding to an incident, it is a waste of time for a policeman to drive to the service center to pick up a police vehicle and then drive back to the scene. He also thinks it unnecessary to require an employee of the city to actually live in Chattanooga.
Birmingham, Ala./Jefferson County, is now facing bankruptcy because of corruption while the sewer system was being upgraded, he noted. Mr. McCullough said he would prevent such an outcome in Chattanooga’s massive sewer project by providing oversight. He is for using Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for taking blighted areas to a higher standard, but he said it is not for every project; each should be looked at individually. He said he is committed to the wise use of taxpayer dollars.
Chip Henderson attended Jacksonville State University and Tennessee Temple University. He owns Henderson Construction Company, which concentrates on light commercial and residential construction. He has lived in District 1 for 21 years, and has been both chairman and vice chairman of the Hamilton County School Board. He told the audience that he guided his company through the tough financial times by eliminating debt and building cash reserves. This sound business leadership would be his plan of action for Chattanooga if elected. He said that he has conservative values.
His strategy would combine offices such as the Parks and Recreation department with the department of Arts and Education for efficiency. Duplicating services such as remodeling Memorial Auditorium when the city also has the Tivoli Theater, and reducing city-owned golf courses to one versus the four that Chattanooga currently owns for public use are also on his agenda. Additionally, he advocates for some government agencies to be supported by foundations.
The number one priority issue he would address is roads. He said the $1.5 million that is currently being spent on roads should be increased to $5 million. He believes that a road study should be made public, and a priority developed, based on the study.
Protection of citizens from gang violence would also be a main concern. He believes people that are paid by the city of Chattanooga should not necessarily have to live in the city limits. He believes in TIF financing and believes the best use for it is industrial projects. He said there is no payback to the city for 20 years for residential use of this financing because it requires the most city services, as does commercial development. Targeting industrial use would bring jobs and, therefore, some income. Projects should be dealt with case by case, he said.
Mr. Henderson said that he would read all proposals and contracts and understand the issues in order to make an informed decision before voting. He also said that he would communicate with his constituents by attending public meetings and returning phone calls.
Jim Folkner, the third candidate at the forum, is best known for leading the recall effort of Mayor Ron Littlefield. He has a bachelor and MBA degree and attended a seminary. According to Mr. Folkner, he has run several businesses but is now retired. He sees apathy as the biggest problem with the city’s government, and thinks there should be more citizen involvement. He told the audience that the city is “hemorrhaging money” and he sees a lot of waste in government spending. He thinks Chattanooga should get more out of the money that it has. He said it is not necessary to increase taxes, but that tax dollars need to be used “smartly.”
His number one priority for Chattanooga reprioritizing city spending. Gang violence, police morale and roads are the other two matters of concern as he sees it. He thinks that city employees should live in the city limits, but with incentives not requirements.
Concerning the costs for doing sewer work, being mindful of the problems in Birmingham, Mr. Folkner said that a city auditor has reported $45 million has already been mis-spent on the project by Chattanooga. He said the city should not be so quick to draw up contracts. With several years left to complete the sewer system repairs, he said that he would spend the money carefully and slowly.
Mr. Folkner believes that there was not enough oversight by the City Council when approving the TIF financing for Black Creek Mountain, saying they gave no parameters. The city won’t be paid back for 20 years and will lose $9 million plus interest, he said. He stated, “I’m opposed.” He went on to say that in principle some tiffs are useful, and should be weighed in terms of jobs created.
President of the Nightside Pachyderm Club Larry Minniear thanked the three candidates for participating in the forum. He told the members that in the future they will have the opportunity to hear contenders from the other districts. “Anyone that makes the sacrifice to run for public office should be commended” Mr. Minniear told the group.