City Council Candidates Talk Tough, But Tolerance Of Big Planning Persists

Sunday, January 27, 2013 - by David Tulis

Local economy is a question that poked its head several times at the Chattanooga Tea Party candidates forum in which six candidates for city council posts offer their vision for a city government more mindful of spending tax revenue. 

One candidate for the Brainerd area, Tom Tomisek, makes the most vigorous defense of entrepreneurship oppressed by the corporate spider web imposed by city officials. Advertising executive Ken Smith, seemingly the youngest in the group mostly in its 50s or 60s, makes a good personal impression but leaves unclear his position on “regional action plans” such as that promoted by Thrive 2055. 

While the rise of the modern police state concerns many lovers of the free market, the men in the group did not say anything about the city’s having too many police officers. ‡ If anything, the city has too few, and members of the department deserve better treatment in benefits and the scope of their duties, candidates seemed to agree. 

None of the candidates at the Thursday event are sympathetic to United Nations doodlings such as Agenda 21 or the city’s involvement with U.N. organizations that tend to delocalize and to regionalize the perspectives of people who become involved. 

In the parking lot after the event, candidate Jim Folkner, who fought a long legal battle to unseat Mayor Ron Littlefield, chides me for declaring that ideas control elections. “I wish ideas controlled, but too much of the time it’s the money and the personalities and the way they want the money spent that control the decisions on our city council.” 

Mr. Folkner, who reveals strong familiarity with budgets, is not being cynical. But a review of candidate Ken Smith’s remarks suggests how helpful a thorough-going free market perspective would be to get a candidate out of the spider webbery of benevolent “big think” and the national economy perspective espoused by the 16-county plan backers.

‘Whatever plans may be intended to be imposed on us’

Mr. Smith, as did the other candidates, speaks several times under a timekeeper’s flashed sheets of paper. He also answers audience questions when the six candidates for various districts sit in a row at the front of the conference hall. In forum questions, Mr. Smith says he would have voted “no” on the Hixson development rezoning request and opposes the city’s being in Iclei, the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. A first item of business if elected in city district 3 would be a total audit of city assets and property. 

I ask Mr. Smith if the 16-county plan is good for local economy and good for local people. 

Ken Smith

 — What I was stating earlier about the plan itself, I’m a firm believer in planning as opposed to just jumping into something and starting development. However, what’s important to me is that those plans are not only established, but also carried out, by local representatives here, in Chattanooga, that must answer to the taxpayers and citizens of Chattanooga and not to somebody coming in from the outside and telling us what is best for us as a whole. 


 — Is it practical to have a 16-county plan involving three states? Is there a problem with that or is that a reasonable, good and modern thing? 

Ken Smith

 — I’m not sure there is necessarily a problem with it. It’s more a matter of – we’re going to be facing much much different issues right here in Chattanooga than, say, reaching out to a Rhea county, which is much more rural. So, from that regard, I don’t know that it’s necessarily bad to be talking from the standpoint of maybe some great ideas that could benefit our bordering counties and spreading out. But as far as what we decide needs to happen here within Chattanooga, the decisions need to be kept local. We need to be doing it with local partners, local money — and again the people making these decisions must be responsible to the taxpayers. 


— What does this say about regional government and the idea of these commissions and bodies that are not lococentric extending plans for this large area? 

Ken Smith

 — Well, depending on what those plans would be, I know this is kind of, it’s just bringing up the issue, not a specific plan, just the idea of them — but again, whatever plans may be intended to be imposed on us, I still think at this level *** whether or not we adopt a plan coming from the outside, or completely disregard any plans coming from the outside, what we do locally needs to be [decided] at the local level. [End of transcript] 

Does local economy mean anything? Yes: a free market

Mr. Smith is a conservative businessman and a Christian who is a member at Hixson United Methodist church with his wife and three children. But his answers suggest he hasn’t cleared away some of the statist debris that obscures an easy view of the beauty of the free market. Rather than opposing a centralized planning process put on by the minders of the social engineering class, Mr. Smith seems to accept their role, as if it were inevitable and inescapable. 

He countenances their program. Mr. Smith goes out of his way, as you note, to claim local ownership of the planning process. The decisions need to be kept local. The plan needs to be by people “responsible to the taxpayers.” The planners must “answer to the taxpayers and citizens” of the city. But are these safeguards enough, especially once bureaucracy is established and the planning combine enlarges its payroll and becomes a constituency gorging on the public dole? 

The position of Mr. Smith, and possibly other candidates, runs something like this: Let professionals devise a plan based on their doctoral level research, and we will ratify it if it seems good to us. This position may seem safe. But is it? 

No lover of the free market and local economy is going to be satisfied with faux localism, with big boy administrators’ plans baptized into local economy by a vote of the voters’ representatives. A defender of local economy is satisfied to leave development and growth to the marketplace and to liberty. He is content to trust the common people of Hamilton County, men and women of goodwill much like himself, and to let them develop things as they will — in service to others, and in free market self-interest. 

The genuine free marketer is suspicious of consultants touting surveys, and geeks bearing clipboards at public forums. Mr. Folkner may be right. Maybe politics are controlled by donations and personal commitments, and not by ideas. But suspicion of planners and confidence in the uncontrolled and unregulated free market is foundational, and without that Chattanooga government will continue to impair local economy and the family small business. 

— David Tulis writes for, which covers local economy and free markets in Chattanooga and beyond.

‡ Roger Tuder, candidate in district 2, draws the loudest laugh of the evening after he describes his wife’s obtaining a pistol and starting lessons. He says he doesn’t know what those people in Washington can accomplish, “but I expect they’re going to have one hard time taking that away from her.”

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