A field of seven City Commission candidates have only a short time to win over Johnson City voters in the April 23 municipal election, and they attempted to do just that Tuesday night at a town hall-style forum in front of about 150 curious, observant, note-taking citizens.
The event, held downtown in The Charles, was sponsored by Seniors in Action, Young Professionals of the Tri-Cities and Johnson City Professional Firefighters Association. Dave Hogan, with radio station WJCW’s Dave & Carl talk show, asked a series of questions compiled by the three groups.
The candidates are Jane Myron, city commissioner and former mayor; Jenny Brock, former Johnson City Board of Education member; David Tomita, a Washington County commissioner; Frank Bolus, a former Washington County commissioner; William “Bud” Hill, who ran unsuccessfully for a City Commission seat in 2011; Bart Mikitowicz, a project coordinator for Johnson City’s Glass & Concrete Contracting; and Vance Cheek Jr., a former city commissioner and mayor.
In the interest of objectivity, and with the understanding this is not a playoff in which the number of candidates will be reduced to two, the following questions and responses are offered for review:
Q: What will be your top objective as a commissioner?
Brock: “Growth — getting growth back into our economy so we can keep our tax base. We’re just now back at 2007 retail sales levels. Growth helps funds the schools and the city.
Mikitowicz: “One is public transportation infrastructure. “The second would be to get downtown where it needs to be — to not be dragging our feet.”
Hill: “Economic development and downtown redevelopment. Also, protecting our historical resources. That coincides with maintaining our streets downtown.”
Myron: “I can’t keep it to one. But I’m going to say the streets and sidewalks. I’m also partial toward the health of our citizens.”
Tomita: “We have to attract business, but we also have to protect the businesses that are here. ETSU is strong, but there also are other areas we need to pay attention to. We are sales tax-driven.”
Bolus: “My number one objective is to make Johnson City an even more desirable place to live. TIF projects, education, flood control — all of these things are very important.”
Cheek: “Economic development without taxes. The Med-Tech corridor is wonderful, but the original plan was to recruit business and industry there. I think that element of the vision has been lost. I think it’s just turned into a place where businesses relocate.”
Q: If elected, would you pledge not to raise taxes or utility rates?
Tomita: “It would be irresponsible to pledge never to raise taxes. I don’t know of a more honest way to say it, except that I would have to have first looked at all the alternatives.”
Bolus: “I would pledge to you that I never would vote for a tax increase.”
Cheek: “I give you my word that if I’m elected, we will balance four budgets without a tax increase. There are other means of generating revenue.”
Brock: “No one wants to raise taxes. However, I can’t pledge to you I would never vote to raise taxes. We don’t know what’s on the horizon.”
Mikitowicz: “The only thing I’d like to add to this is that by increasing the occupancy of these downtown buildings will help.”
Hill: “As I’ve pledged in the past, I would not raise taxes.”
Myron: “I can’t promise you that I wouldn’t vote for it, because I’d have to evaluate at the time what is best for our schools and the city.”
Q: Downtown and other areas have flooding problems. Whose fault is it? And, is the city’s $30 million plan going to work?
Cheek: “Looking at the past is not where our attention needs to be. The issue is being addressed, and now it’s time to move on.”
Brock: “One of the unique things about the flood plan is it creates greenspace. I’d like to think we’re making progress and see the plan through.”
Mikitowicz: “It needs to be done for $30 million. That’s fantastic, because that prepares the next step for renovation downtown.”
Hill: “They’re taking a little bit too long. This plan has been in place for six years.”
Myron: “The plan has to make sense. They have the plan on the front burner. And now — are you willing to spend $20 million to fix this? It’s going to take a tax increase.”
Tomita: “It looks like we’ve got a good plan with a phased approach. We’re going along and making sure we’re getting the affect we want.”
Bolus: “The U-Haul appeal is slowing things down. I’d like to see us be able to move faster. It would help downtown businesses tremendously.”
Q: Do you favor a school voucher program for Johnson City schools?
Bolus: “Most teachers I know are against vouchers. I don’t think we need a system like this, and our students can get an education without it.”
Cheek: “I think our job, by charter, is to educate the children of Johnson City. We have private and parochial schools now. The one big check we write every year is to the (public) school system.”
Brock: “Well, I’m on record as not being in favor of vouchers. Once students leave and go to private schools, they take that money with them.”
Mikitowicz: “I was a student of private schools. The real idea is, is there room for compromise?”
Hill: “I’m not for the voucher system whatsoever.”
Myron: “I’m not for the vouchers. I really don’t have all the information I need yet with all that’s going on in Nashville, but I trust our school system and its teachers.”
Tomita: “You would be taking a tremendous amount of money out of the school system. I’m not for vouchers, not when you’re using public money.”