The event was sponsored by Carter County Compass, an Internet news blog, and all candidates in the local elections were invited. The audience filled one side of the John Treadway Gymnasium at Elizabethton High School.
The program began with a faceoff between the candidates for First Judicial District attorney general, Tony Clark and Dan Smith.
Challenger Smith introduced himself as a retired Marine Corps officer. Smith said he had 21 years in the Corps. The last 13 were as a member of the Judge Advocate branch. Following his retirement from the military, Smith took a job with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Beaumont, Texas, and later with the Eastern District of Tennessee. He worked on many drug convictions and received the Southern Region, Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force case of the year award in 2002 and 2005.
He said after retiring from two careers, “I now want to serve the people of the First Judicial District. I believe my experience enables me to be an effective First District attorney general,” Smith said.
Smith is challenging incumbent Tony Clark, who spoke next.
Clark said he was very proud and humble to have been able to serve the people of the First District for the past eight years” as attorney general. He said he has worked in the district office for 20 years, first under David Crockett and then under Joe Crumley.
“I have always strived to do the right thing,” he said, adding that he was not concerned with the popularity of an individual but on the merits of the case.
In the Carter County mayor’s race, independent candidate Kent Williams attended. He is challenging incumbent Mayor Leon Humphrey, who is also the Republican nominee. Humphrey was not able to attend the forum.
Williams said he was proud to have served the people of the 4th House District in Nashville, two of those years as speaker.
Moderator Thom Gray asked Williams about his stand on school consolidation.
“I am not for consolidation,” Williams said. “How ridiculous.” He predicted it would cost $100 million to build the new schools and said it would be even harder for Carter County to find the money because more students would move to the city schools. He said if the county lost 500 students, it would cost $300,000 a year in state Basic Education Program money.
Williams said there was a big concern with funding the county’s schools because so much of the cost is placed on the backs of property taxpayers. He said more jobs must be created in the county in order to lighten the burden. He said the sad fact is, Carter County has lost 1,440 jobs in last four years.
“It will take everyone working on one page and we can recruit industry,” Williams said.
He said the state has poured $100 million into the county to improve infrastructure, including the Gap Creek Highway Project, new bridges and the $16 million expansion of the technology college on Highway 91. He said education and the technology center must improve the workforce.
In the sheriff’s race, only the man not on the ballot, incumbent Sheriff Chris Mathes, appeared. He is a write-in candidate after losing in the Republican Primary to Dexter Lunceford.
Mathes said he has extensive experience in law enforcement, He said his career started in 1992, when he was hired by the Johnson City Police Department. He handled several assignments, including work as a detective. That was followed by eight years with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. During that time, Mathes said he received three promotions and was agent of the year three times. He also had experience working in foreign countries.
Mathes said when he was elected sheriff, he promised to target the drug problem in Carter County. He said he has done that by assigning five officers to the drug unit. He said the result has been Carter County being the No. 1 county in the state in methamphetamine arrests.
Mathes said his department is also making an impact in the schools. He said the department will now have 13 school resource officers and is working on establishing an ROTC-style program at Happy Valley and is looking at a “Young Marine” program for younger students.
The audience also heard from some of the candidates for the 3rd and 4th state House seats.
In the 3rd District, challenger Kevin Parsons discussed the needs of the remote and mountainous district, which stretches from the top of Roan Mountain, through Shady Valley to the west of Bristol. He said the district did not need a pervasive government influence.
“What we need is jobs. We need businesses to help these places succeed,” Parsons said.
Incumbent Timothy Hill said he was providing a strong conservative voice in Nashville. He discussed some of his legislative successes, including the bringing of $1.9 million back to the county to refurbish some county bridges.
Judy Veeneman was the only candidate for the 4th District race to speak. Her opponent, John Holsclaw Jr., was unable to attend.
In her answers to several diverse questions, Veeneman consistently said she supported the right of the local government to make local decisions. Those applied to the Common Core education initiative and education vouchers, which she said was alright for Memphis but not for Northeast Tennessee. She said she did not support vouchers for Memphis if it drained funding from Northeast Tennessee. She also said such issues as guns in parks should be addressed by local communities and not by state or federal mandates.