A Signal Mountain student group will host an Election Forum for the upcoming election on Nov. 6 that will fill three seats on the Signal Mountain Town Council.
The Signal Mountain Town Council Election Forum will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 16, in the theater at Signal Mountain Middle High School.
Former Mayor Paul Hendricks suggested the High School Student Council host the forum in hopes of providing a tradition going forward and also to get more students involved in the political process.
SMHS Junior Ethan Fell embraced the idea, agreed to be moderator, and has done “an incredible job of collaborating with the candidates to organize the event,” according to faculty sponsor Stephanie Lewallen.
“While the process has been tedious, every moment of it has been worth it,” Ethan said. “I have received so much help from Mrs. Lewallen and the other StuCo members. So, while in retrospect it seems like a lot of work, the ‘it takes a village’ standard really applies and has made the process so much easier.”
Ethan, who serves as Public Relations director for Student Council, has communicated regularly with the seven Town Council candidates who are vying for three seats: Joe Durek, Dun Monroe, Rob Hensley, Dan Landrum, Bill Lusk, Susannah Murdock, and Rick Saputa.
Student Council members also met with representatives from the League of Women Voters.
“Their experience and advice was invaluable,” Ethan said. “We mostly discussed the logistics of the forum and how to approach candidate-specific and 'gotcha' questions. They provided a lot of advice on this front, in addition to information on how to conduct written questioning.”
“We listened carefully and have now set up a system based on this advice for accepting and filtering pre-written questions from the audience,” he said. “Using this system, we hope to be able to pose a diverse array of questions to the candidates so, that way, many different topics can be covered throughout the forum.”
The format for the forum will be as follows:
1) Introduction/Welcome by moderator
2) Candidates' Opening Statements (90 sec per candidate / 7 candidates)
3) General Questions from the Audience (45-50 min)
4) Candidate-Specific Questions (25-30 min)
5) Candidates' Closing Statements (90 sec per candidate / 7 candidates)
Organizers said the forum should last no longer than two hours. The exact timing for the question portions will remain tentative, so the moderator may feel out the room to determine a 5-10 minute margin of extensions/limits.
The race has attracted a lot of attention, and the forum is expected to draw a big crowd.
Overflow seating will be available in the school’s nearby cafeteria where the Forum will be streamed live on a large SmartTV.
SMHS Film students, under the direction of Matt Doebler, will be filming the event. A link to watch the forum live (or later) will be shared on the Signal Mountain Middle/High School PTSA Facebook page and school’s website (https://smmhs.hcde.org/) on the day of event.
The student council will also be setting up a PollEverywhere system, where audience members and online viewers may submit their questions to the moderator via text throughout the forum.
This will ensure he can intervene if an overwhelming amount of questions are received on one topic, or that as many diverse questions as possible are asked, Ethan said.
Questions may be submitted in advance to Ethan at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ethan is considering the possibility of pursuing a college major in either government or international relations and has enjoyed this experience to learn more the process of local politics.
“I've definitely learned the value of treading carefully when it comes to social media,” he said.
“Much of our process revolved around spreading the word through social media, and in particular, Facebook. So when some edits had to be made (on a flyer) or when questions were raised, it was more difficult than expected to make corrections and quickly fix any concerns. Nevertheless, this learning process has been a great one for me and I'm very glad I've been exposed to the world of advertisement through social media.”
Ethan is enrolled in his school’s rigorous International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. He also is involved in many different school activities including the school's Leo Club, IB Ambassadors program, Mock Trial, and theatre department. In addition, he is a school and region-wide officer for the Southeastern High School Model United Nations program, as well as a state-wide Youth in Government officer for the Tennessee YMCA Center for Civic Engagement. As if that isn’t enough, he also participates in the youth choir at Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church and is currently undergoing the final review process for recognition as an Eagle Scout.
This past summer, Ethan was honored to participate in the Governor's School for International Studies and the U.S. Senate Page Program.
“In June, I was at the University of Memphis with 63 other students studying anthropology, language, and international politics,” he said. “Days after, I traveled to D.C. and lived with 30 other high schoolers from across the country while working for the U.S. Senate.”
Ethan was nominated by Senator Bob Corker. He mentioned many incredible experiences, including working on the senate floor, witnessing the nomination of newly confirmed Justice Brett Kavanaugh, taking part in the budgetary process, speaking with both majority and minority leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, and “very literally witnessing history.”
“My daily tasks included anything from delivering messages to setting up a senator's podium before a speech to delivering votes to various branches of the Capitol,” he said.
All this provided experience valuable to his current role moderating the Signal Mountain Town Council Election Forum.