Carter County mayor faces one in primary

John Thompson • Apr 30, 2014 at 11:35 AM

ELIZABETHTON — Incumbent Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey is facing a challenge in the May 6 Republican Primary by Carter County Commissioner Joel Street Jr. The winner of the nomination will face state Rep. Kent Williams in the August general election.

Humphrey has served as mayor for four years. He unseated incumbent Johnny Holder in 2010 and has worked to bring in $754,000 in grant funding from the state and federal governments.

Street has been an active member of the County Commission working to bring grants to his district. He serves as chairman of the Landfill Committee and has also joined with Landfill Manager Benny Lyons to bring grants to the landfill operations and the county’s recycling program.

The landfill and the recycling program are areas where Humprhey and Street have strong disagreements.

From the start of his administration, Humphrey has tried to improve the recycling program, inviting the Landfill Committee to take trips to study other successful county recycling programs in Washington and Marshall counties.

Humphrey has called for the creation of a single stream recycling program, which he said could generate revenues of $500,000 a year and reduce landfill waste by as much as 60 percent.

Street said the operations of the landfill have shown great improvement over the past few years, with the acquisition of used but serviceable equipment, the installation of new truck scales He said several large grants have allowed for the purchase of containers to collect cardboard and other recyclables at all the schools in the county. The county’s recycling center has new sorting equipment paid for with grants.

Humphrey also criticized the fee schedule for the landfill. He said the landfill has lost its biggest customers to a new landfill in Blountville. He also called for lowering the fees to individual households. Lower fees would help end illegal dumping.

Street said the landfill is required by the state to maintain and monitor the closed landfill. Its commercial operations consist of a construction and demolition landfill and a transfer stations. Funds from these must pay for the maintenance of the closed landfill.

In another area where Humphrey has sought to help keep the county clean, he has called for the establishment of an environmental law court to enforce litter and zoning ordinances. He said the current system through Sessions Court is too slow, taking months and even years to reach a decision on cases.

Street said the Republican Party is working for smaller government and he felt the county could not afford to create another judge and court.

One thing the men agree on is the need to reinstate funding for training and travel in the County Commission’s line item. More than half the commissioners are stepping down this year, and both Humphrey and Street said there is a need for the new commissioners to receive training from the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Advisory Service.

Humphrey said all the new faces on the Commission make an experienced mayor an asset to the county.

“The mayor’s job is the steepest learning curve I have ever had in any job,” Humphrey said. “In most jobs, it takes two to six months to come to terms with all the aspects of the job. In the mayor’s job, it takes two- plus years.

“The County Commission is going to be faced with some major issues,” Humphrey said. He said the current commission’s decisions in drawing down the reserves in debt service and general fund must be addressed.

Humphrey said he was opposed to increasing taxes to address the problem. He favored a 5 percent across the board tax cut n all county departments and the installation of zero-based budget in future budget cycles.

Street agreed the next mayor will face major challenges, but he said “my leadership ability will be a big asset.”

“A true leader is one who inspires those around him to follow him or her. ... A mayor who can unite the Commission and the county office holders to solve the critical issues in the debt service and general budget.”

Street said there has been a lot of negative publicity involving the county in the past and that has harmed the county’s economic development efforts.

“In order to sell our county to business and industry, we have to portray our people in a positive manner. I believe a mayor should have a positive outlook and he needs to be a positive person. I believe I am a positive person who can get along well with the County Commission and with the county officeholders. I am excited to finally have the intent of the silent majority of this county heard, and I will respect their decision.”

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