Brace yourself: City races will soon be here

Robert Houk • Sep 24, 2012 at 9:07 AM

A few years ago I took a call from a reader from Telford who was miffed at me for writing a column handicapping an upcoming spring race for City Commission while a contentious fall campaign for president was still being waged.

“Can’t we get one blasted election behind us before you start talking about another?”

He certainly had a point. It’s hard enough for most voters to concentrate on one election without confusing them with talk about another seven months away. With that being said, I must apologize to my friend in Telford for what I’m about to do today.

I’m going to speculate on Johnson City’s next municipal election.

We are about four months away from the qualifying deadline for City Commission and the city’s Board of Education. In particular, it’s the race for City Commission that is drawing interest now because incumbents Phil Carriger and Jane Myron are not expected to seek re-election. That leaves two open seats up for grabs in the April.

With Carriger and Myron gone, Mayor Jeff Banyas would be the senior member of the board. Banyas was elected to his second term on the commission last year. Joining him were newcomers Ralph Van Brocklin and Clayton Stout.

The 2011 election was a wild one. Incumbent Marcy Walker lost her re-election bid, and another incumbent decided he had served long enough. Actually, former Mayor Steve Darden wanted to call it quits earlier, but decided to stick around for two more years. Darden was elected in 2009 to fill the remaining two years on the seat given up by Phil Roe when he was elected to Congress.

So after two-and-a-half terms on the commission, Banyas could become the most experienced member of the board in 2013 when commissioners get down to voting on the city’s new budget. That’s one of the reasons I think the city should move its municipal elections to the fall.

It seems unfair to expect newly elected commissioners to dive into the budget before they are given time to familiarize themselves with the fiscal process. Moving the campaign for municipal races to the fall might also help improve the dismal turnouts for city elections. Less than 12.5 percent of Johnson City’s 36,644 eligible voters went to the polls in 2011.

There are a few names already being mentioned as possible candidates for the City Commission, and a few of them belong to individuals who have served previously on the board. Among them are a number of former mayors, including Jeff Anderson, who served in the early 1990s, and Vance Cheek Jr., who served in the late 1990s.

Of course there’s also speculation another former mayor may try to make a comeback after losing a bid for a fourth term in 2007. I’m not sure “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” even wants to return to the City Commission (some have suggested he is more interested in winning a seat on the Board of Education). Even so, his name comes up like a boogie man parents might use to scare their children into behaving.

“You’d better eat your spinach or ‘You Know Who’ will be elected to the City Commission.”

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at [email protected]

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