Rutherford challenging Mayor Eldridge in Republican primary

Gary B. Gray • Apr 29, 2014 at 4:31 PM

Zoning Administrator Mike Rutherford will challenge incumbent County Mayor Dan Eldridge for Washington County’s top administrative post in the county’s May 6 Republican primary.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Ed Graybeal will run for another term, but will likely face opposition for the first time in recent history. Craig Ford, Jonesborough’s town operations manager, has decided to make a run to take that spot.

The county general election is Aug. 7.

Rutherford picked up his nomination application and other materials early Friday — the first day to do so. He said he has grown tired of “bickering” and “gutter politics” and that his disappointment over a lack of communication from Eldridge to other county bodies and to the citizens spurred his decision to run.

“Due to all the bickering and hidden agendas, communication has been lost,” Rutherford said from his office. “The county government’s image has taken a big hit. We simply have to take things back to the ABCs. We have got to bring accountability back. A lot of politicians call it transparency; I call it accountability. No more second guessing.

“I’ve served the citizens of Washington County over a quarter of a century, and I feel like when I’m talking to them, their confidence in local government has diminished. I’m very disappointed that there’s no communications with this administration, and I think that time could be better spent on the issues at hand.”

Eldridge, who also picked up his papers on Friday, told the Johnson City Press he does intend to run for a second term.

He encouraged anyone who feels called to serve the county and has “a clear vision for how to move Washington County in a positive direction,” to be a part of the democratic process. He did not, however, choose to comment specifically about Rutherford.

“When I made the decision to leave the private sector and enter the race for county mayor four years ago, it was with a strong desire to see Washington County move forward by building on our many assets and resources,” Eldridge said. “I look forward to another term, because much remains to be done. It will take experienced leadership and innovative ideas. It will require continued commitment to moving beyond politics as usual. But I’ve never been more optimistic about what we can accomplish in Washington County.”

Zoning administrator is just one of Rutherford’s titles. The former county commissioner also is the county’s flood plan and stormwater administrator, chief general welfare officer, planning coordinator and building code enforcement director.

Rutherford’s family from at least four generations past all were Washington Countians. He attended Johnson City schools and graduated from East Tennessee State University with a business degree. He worked briefly with a local design firm. In 1985, at a time when courthouse renovations were the hot topic, he was encouraged to run for a seat on the commission, serving what was then the 9th District.

At that time, commissioners also were struggling over how to organize a zoning office. Former Building Commissioner John Sims was carrying out some of these duties, but Rutherford applied to head the new office in 1989 and has been there ever since.

He said commissioners, as well as various department heads and committee members, have always asked for his advice on various matters.

“That has always been that way, but it’s become more prevalent over the past three years,” he said. “It could be they’re not receiving information from other sources. They may be having miscommunications during committee actions. I also may be asked to prepare studies related to zoning, planning and stormwater issues.”

Meanwhile, it was Graybeal who was first in line Friday at the Washington County Election Commission office to pick up his materials and confirm that he is running. He has been sheriff since 2003.

“I just love working with the people in Washington County,” he said. “I’ve never changed jobs. I’ve been with the department since 1980. You don’t leave people that have supported you. They are a part of my life. This is where I want to be and this is what I want to do.”

Ford said he has been “giving the run for sheriff’s office a lot of consideration” and ultimately decided to pick up his papers Friday because of the “overwhelming excitement and support I’ve been given the last few months.”

Ford expects to make a formal announcement of his run for the office “really, really soon,” he noted.

Other notables picking up applications early in the process include Jack Daniels, who has been the county trustee for 28 years; Ginger Jilton, who is seeking a fourth term as register of deeds; Kathy Storey, county clerk since 2010; Tom Krieger, former president of Fleming Foods, who will run for a 6th Commission District seat; and Matthew Morris, a 25-year-old from Telford running for the first time for a 8th Commission District seat.

It’s too early to say who else might challenge for various county positions, but the Press will be updating entries.

— Assistant News Editor Kristen Swing contributed to this report.

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