Seven City Commission candidates vying for two open seats in Johnson City’s April 23 municipal election fielded questions at a forum Tuesday at the Memorial Park Community Center hosted by the Senior Center Advisory Council and Senior Center Foundation Board.
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.
The following questions and answers were taken from the two-hour forum:
Q: If the need is demonstrated by the increased utilization and growth of senior programs at the MPCC, would you support designating a senior wing and a dedicated space for the exclusive use by seniors?
Mikitowicz: “If the need is demonstrated by the growth of senior activities, and if the parties involved and management agreed, I would have no problem with that.”
Bolus: “We do need to have a section for seniors only, but it doesn’t need to be a major part of the whole center.”
Brock: “I would start by looking at the center and how the programs are functioning. I do believe there should be dedicated space.”
Hill: “I would love to have a dedicated space for seniors, but I don’t know how we would go about it at this point.”
Myron: “This is like the fourth month of when you’ve just bought a new home. There are things you need to do. You need to look at new ideas, and they’re (management) going to benefit by your comments.”
Cheek: “Unequivocally, I would dedicate a part for seniors. I think we have to keep in mind that this (MPCC) was a concept that was sprung from the idea of a new senior center.”
Tomita: “We can’t un-ring the bell. I would support a dedicated area. But what area would we dedicate? I think it’s a little early on to determine that.”
Q: What do you think about the current programs offered to seniors, and how committed would you be as a commissioner to keep or improve funding at historic or higher levels?
Bolus: “Funding would not drop below last year. We need to see if we can set up new programs that the seniors are interested in.”
Brock: “I think funding levels depend on use, for the center itself. There are new programs being offered. We have to analyze budgets submitted to see where we can go from there.”
Hill: “We would have to see what the usage is to determine funding.”
Myron: “We have to use just about every part of this building. Come down and participate. This is your money that paid for this.”
Cheek: “The programs they offer are wonderful. My mother took a computer class. The issue is really one of budgeting and funding. We want to keep funding at prior levels.”
Q: If elected, would you support restoring the budget to the level prior to making Senior Services part of the Parks and Recreation Department and the move to the MPCC?
Brock: “We’re going to have to lay out the needs and make sure we provide services.”
Hill: “The funding should be reflected in the membership and its growth.”
Myron: “There’s still a lot to look at. Growth. There will be growth. With growth comes wisdom, and we don’t want to micro-manage.”
Cheek: “The budgetary priorities have to be tied to the seniors’ needs. Folks are concerned. They feel like the City Commission didn’t deliver, and they don’t feel they were listened to.”
Tomita: “It’s not just about services. It’s about quality of life.”
Mikitowicz: “Does anyone ride the bus here (no hands raised)? I guarantee that if we improved our transportation system, more seniors would be getting here.”
Q: What actions will you take to help 20- and 30-year-olds to find employment here in Johnson City?
Myron: “It’s not going to happen overnight. But there are plans in the works. There are businesses that have shown a tremendous interest.”
Cheek: “I’m an economic development candidate. We’ve got to put the foot on the accelerator when it comes to jobs. We have a tremendous ‘brain-drain’ going on. Students from ETSU and Milligan are getting their degrees and moving away.”
Tomita: “It’s very simple. If there are no jobs or low quality of life, they are not going to come back here. We need to get them involved — get them on boards and committees.”
Mikitowicz: “I agree with Mr. Tomita. My current job is with a historical restoration company, and we’ve actually created new jobs and brought money here.”
Bolus: “Our economic development council needs to help bring more jobs to Washington County. I also think students should go ahead and pursue degrees. If they want, pursue a two-year degree at Northeast State.”
Brock: “It’s not just the ‘30 somethings’ that don’t have jobs in the community. And guess what — manufacturing is coming back, and it’s coming to the Southeast.”
Hill: “We do need to get the Small Business Administration to open up more opportunities. A lot of people don’t have the financial help they need to get started.”
Q: This was a “Yes” or “No.” Would you consider allowing a local referendum in which voters could decide whether to allow wine sales in grocery stores?
The Senior Center Advisory Council and Senior Center Foundation Board will host a forum for Johnson City Board of Education candidates at 2 p.m. on Tuesday at the Memorial Park Community Center.