The Nightside Pachyderm Club and Chattanooga Tea Party on Thursday night jointly provided a venue for Chattanooga City Council candidates to explain their views on issues that concern the city.
Each candidate was allowed to speak six minutes, followed by questions from the audience. Six candidates representing Districts 1-4 gave presentations in alphabetical order. Those participating in the forum were Jim Folkner from District 1, Jerry Mitchell and Roger Tuder from District 2, Ken Smith from District 3, and Larry Grohn and Tom Tomisek from District 4.
The first given an opportunity to speak was Jim Folkner, who is best known for leading the effort to recall Mayor Ron Littlefield. The present council representative from District 1 is Deborah Scott, who is not running for re-election. The first issue Mr. Folkner would tackle if elected is transparency in the city government and accountability of the council to the citizens. He believes the city should have fewer rules and regulations such as requiring a permit to own a horse in city limits. He also told the audience that the city government is out of control with spending. He believes Chattanooga has the money to do what needs to be done, but not necessarily for all the city’s “wants.” He said the council members will not stop spending until the citizens tell them to stop and that priorities should be reorganized.
Jerry Mitchell told the audience that he has spent most of his adult life in private businesses such as real estate and construction, but for six and a half years he ran the department of Parks and Recreation for Chattanooga, under then Mayors Corker and Kinsey. He said the City Council has already been working on a budget before the upcoming election occurs, so budget matters need to be the first item addressed. Public safety is a number one priority for this candidate, and the police and fire departments need to be shown appreciation. He said the city needs to be more responsive to its citizens, waste in government needs to be dealt with, businesses need to be given incentives and then the government needs to get out of the way. Infrastructure in the way of roads needs attention as does the improvement of public education. He also believes that government needs to be transparent.
Roger Tuder, hoping to win the position being left by Sally Robinson, said first the city needs to budget for what is needed. Budgets now must match the previous year’s budget, and in some cases money is spent in order to just not lose it. Personal safety is a priority requiring adequate law enforcement and stiff penalties. Property values should be protected and one way is to enforce city codes and crack down on crime. He also believes the city should be accountable for spending citizens’ tax dollars and to prioritize services that are necessary. The City Council should do what the citizens want them to do. "Their job is to listen and serve you, the taxpayer," he said.
Pam Ladd is being opposed by Ken Smith. His first concern is to ensure that the council works with the citizens and the next mayor. He would like to have a complete audit done of the city. The current culture of local government and the City Council of Chattanooga needs improvement, observed Mr. Smith. There is a need for the council and mayor to show civility and be respectful and honest. He said his campaign is based on fighting property tax increases, for public safety by supporting the fire and police departments, and to focus resources on essential services such as roads.
Larry Grohn is running against incumbent Jack Benson. The first issue he would address is to get a handle on the budget. He believes the city mismanages money; for example putting money in road projects such as building round-abouts rather than repaving existing roads. He said tgovernment spending needs to be changed rather than raising taxes. “The City Council should be a good steward of taxpayers’ money,” he said. Other suggestions he offered for reducing the budget were to eliminate the position of deputy mayor, which he sees as unnecessary and as a politically created position. He also thinks the city should spend less on public art and should do away with the Department of Education, Arts, and Culture and the "high salary" of that director. He suggested defining minimum and maximum salaries and creating job descriptions for city employees, which he says do not now exist. He also believes there needs to be more police and fire personnel for newly annexed areas of the city.
Another opponent of Jack Benson is Tom Tomisek. He is a past president of the Pachyderm Club, a Jaycees member, a past employee of Combustion Engineering and now owns a small business. He graduated from Hixson High School and the University of Tennessee. “Get the government out of my face” and stay out of the way, he said, when describing his number one concern with city government. He said he believes the city hates small businesses, and that the city should be an umpire, not a player. The loss of industry is a major problem he sees with Chattanooga, and said the jobs created by Volkswagen could not replace the thousands lost by the many manufacturing facilities that have left the area. He also noted his concern that crime is hurting property values in the city.
Early voting starts Feb. 13.