Six candidates aim for three seats in Washington County's 6th Commission District race

Gary B. Gray • Apr 29, 2014 at 2:50 PM

Six candidates are in the hunt this year to fill three available seats and represent Washington County’s 6th Commission District.

Incumbents Mark Ferguson, Joe Grandy and Gerald Sparks will join challengers Tom Foster and Tom Krieger in the May 6 Republican primary in which the three top vote-getters will face independent James Brooks in the Aug. 7 general election. The top three will gain seats on the County Commission.

District 6 is in the center of Washington County. It includes the town of Jonesborough and surrounding unincorporated areas stretching from Telford to Johnson City, with 14,043 inhabitants.

Ferguson, 55, was born in Johnson City. He has lived in Washington County most of his life, but he graduated from Escambia High School is west Florida.

He went to work for Eastman Chemical Co. in 1978 and left in 1993 as a control operator.

During his tenure at Eastman, Ferguson started M&H Auto Sales in 1985. He also started the first Mark’s Car Wash in Jonesborough in 1990, and later added two more — one in Gray and one in Johnson City. He also started Mark’s Self Storage in 1991. And in 1999, he started West Town Body Shop, which he later leased out. In 2012, he built a new Family Dollar store in Jonesborough.

“I have a desire to help people, and it humbles me,” Ferguson said. “I led the fight to secure funding for the Jonesborough Senior Center. I like to remain objective, and I believe in timely communication and honest dialogue. I believe in seeking information on every resolution to know we’re making the right decision. I can’t be a sounding board for the county without that information.

“I’m proud of the fact our county has funded our schools and emergency management,” he added. “We have not raised taxes. And I promise that If I’m elected, I’ll continue to be prudent with taxpayers’ dollars. I will stand up and point a finger. I will say something if it needs saying.”

Ferguson is married and has two children and six grandchildren. He ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the County Commission in 2002, when he was defeated by nine votes. He was appointed in 2005 to fill out the remainder of Joe Wilson’s term. He was then elected to full terms in 2006 and 2010.

Grandy, 62, grew up in Norfolk, Va., graduating from Norfolk Collegiate High School. He received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va.

He started work in Virginia Beach, Va., with Ferguson Enterprises, an international building supply distributor. After management training and a stint in sales, he transferred to Tulsa, Okla., and then to Johnson City in 1985. He currently is Ferguson Enterprises’ general manager and has been with the company for 38 years.

Grandy has served as the Washington County Economic Development Council Executive Board vice chairman since its inception. He was elected to serve as the organization’s chairman and will take that position in July.

His campaign theme is “Headache Relief.”

“I look forward to another four years of working with others to solve complex problems with bold solutions,” he said.

Grandy said his proudest accomplishment so far has been Washington County’s Water-Mapping Project in which he spearheaded a comprehensive waterline mapping effort carried out by county staff. It was the first project of its kind in East Tennessee.

“Frankly, I was downright shocked,” he said. “Here we are in the 21st Century trying to achieve economic growth with embarrassing gaps in our infrastructure. This ground-breaking progress is a strong starting point for future project planning. Bringing clean water to families who have never had it has been an extremely rewarding experience for me.”

He also wants to reduce the number of county commissioners, impose term-limits, and eliminate their taxpayer-funded health insurance to lower costs and increase efficiency.

“The Economic Development Council is the growth engine of our community, and growth in Washington County is what will keep property taxes low,” he concluded. “I look forward to leading this important organization.”

Grandy is married and has two children and seven grandchildren. He is finishing his first term as a commissioner and has not run for any other public office.

Krieger, 78, was born and raised in southeastern Ohio, graduated from high school in Northwestern Ohio and attended the University of Toledo.

He has resided in Washington County for 27 years. Krieger was employed by the Kroger Company for 23 years in various management capacities in Toledo, Cleveland, Akron, Kansas City, Little Rock and St. Louis.

In 1976, he joined Food Lion Stores as a vice president of perishables, and then store operations. In 1985 he joined Fleming Foods as the regional sales manager and in 1986 was appointed president of Fleming Foods of Georgia where he served prior to coming to Johnson City in 1987.

The retired Angus cattle rancher is the ETSU Roan Scholars Leadership Program chairman, ETSU Foundation vice chairman, a Salvation Army and Coalition for Kids board member and a Johnson City Press Christmas Box and Jonesborough Kiwanis Club member. Krieger also is an ordained minister at Central Baptist Church and was a long-time member of the Johnson City Area United Way.

Krieger says he’s convinced there is a need for major changes in the compensation, makeup and civility of the commission. He wants to eliminate the health care benefits for all commissioners and reduce the size of the commission from 25 to between 12-15.

“I feel benefits should be discontinued,” he said. “Commissioners are part-time. Most commissioners I’ve asked say they work about 15 hours a month. My perspective also is that commissioners should respect each other. You often see them trying to set each other up.

“Last spring I made a lot of phone calls to various counties and found that we are one of only four of the state’s 95 counties that have 25 commissioners. We have 12 standing committees. To me, that’s way too many. Sullivan County has three. They have other committees, but they meet only when needed.”

Krieger is married and has two children and five grandchildren. He has not run for public office before this year.

Brooks received a bachelor’s degree in English in 1964 from Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and a master of fine arts degree from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1969. He worked as a copy writer for an advertising agency and as editor of a weekly newspaper, also teaching English at Tarkio College (Missouri) and at Bristol College.

He moved to the area in 1980 and co-founded the Tri-Cities Road Club. Brooks is past president of the Herndon Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society and former TOS state president.

In the early 1990s, he partnered with Audrey Hoff to form Destinations Travel, which organized the first-ever birding tours to the Dominican Republic and Poland, while running domestic tours to West Virginia, Florida and to Washington State.

Brooks has spent 25 years with the Johnson City Press and continues to write The Wild Life, a weekly birding column. Before retiring he was the Press’ outdoors page editor, and former Jonesborough bureau chief.

He currently is semi-retired, working as sales promotion manager for Holiday Lanes.

“I am familiar with county government, its boards and committees, how they work, and in some cases how they do not work well,” Brooks said. “As a reporter I was bound to the strict neutrality rules of journalism, while sometimes chaffing at the inefficient way local government is often run. I look forward for the opportunity to speak out.”

Brooks said most other candidates support his view that 25 commissioners is too many.

“I’m happy the other candidates realize that this is a viable and logical issue,” Brooks said. “No matter how the election comes out I believe the notion of providing a home for every hanger-on in the courthouse is an idea whose days are numbered.”

He and his wife Janeth support two children who live in the Philippines with their grandparents while receiving their education.

Foster, 48, was born in Jonesborough and has lived there all his life.

He graduated from David Crockett High School in 1984. Before graduating, he started Tom’s Small Engines, a business which sold and repaired lawn mowers, chain saws and other equipment.

He then started working for Foster Signs, a business founded by his father, Ron Foster, in 1977. He now owns the Jonesborough company, which creates signs of all types.

Foster serves on the town of Jonesborough Planning Commission and attends Boone Trail Baptist Church, where he is a former deacon.

“I just have a heartfelt desire to serve as a commissioner,” he said. “I feel my business experience will be valuable to the County Commission. I’ve lived here all my life, and I think Jonesborough and Washington County is a great place, and we can make it better.

“I think with the right attitude we can move the County Commission forward by spending money wisely. I believe we should not spend what we don’t have. If elected, I will work to reduce the number of commissioners, and I think commissioners should serve limited terms. Also, commissioners are part-time, yet they get full-time benefits. That should change.”

Foster is married and has two children. This is his first attempt at gaining public office.

Sparks was not available for comment.

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