Although many knew the decision was set, Eldridge began his monthly address to the commission by divulging his intent to remain out of the 2018 county mayorial race.
“I have really, really enjoyed the work I’ve been able to do for the people of Washington County,” Eldridge said.
“From my perspective, there is no better way to serve this community. It has been a really great experience. I didn’t seek the office of county mayor for a career change, you’ve heard me say that a hundred times. As a result, I never intended to serve more than two terms.”
In May 2014, Eldridge bested Mike Rutherford by a nearly 3-to-1 margin to win the Republican primary, and did not face a challenger in the general election.
Eldridge was elected to his first term in 2010, after longtime Mayor George Jaynes retired, by fending off challengers Don Arnold and James Reeves.
Monday’s meeting did become a bit testy when Commission Chairman Greg Matherly announced that representatives from the Election Commission were present to update commissioners on the redistricting process.
More than a year ago, commissioners voted to reduce the commission’s size and rearrange its own districts, instead of waiting until the 2020 census when the process is traditionally done.
While the commission’s Redistricting Committee redrew the district boundaries, Election Commissioner Leslie Lacy said her committee is still in the midst of drawing up precincts, with a Nov. 17 deadline.
“What we tried to do was keep the community in the precinct and the precinct within the community, which is very important. We tried to make it as straightforward as possible,” Lacy said.
Election Administrator Maybell Stewart said the state is still reviewing a few kinks in the new district map, and once finalized, the Election Commission will submit a map, containing 36 total precincts, for state officials to review.
Several county commissioners levied an arrary of questions at Lacy during her open forum, many inquiring about the Election Commission’s methods, its budget and its timeline for creating voting precincts.
At one point, Commissioner Todd Hensley asked Lacy what is different about this redistricting process from years past, considering it’s done every decade.
Lacy responded that no election commissioner was invited to participate in Redistricting Committee meetings where the district maps were drawn, making it more difficult for election commissioners to draw precincts.
Hensley objected, stating election commissioners were invited, but never attended the meetings.
Answering Commissioner Mike Ford’s question about how much the whole thing is going to cost, Lacy said $109,000 had been budgeted for the redistricting.
When Hensley remarked that the smaller commission will save approximately $200,000 in commissioner salaries over four years, Ford responded, “Yeah, but if you would have waited two years, it wouldn’t have cost us a dime.”
County commissioners did approve a change in contract with Thomas Construction over a sinkhole found during construction at the Washington County Industrial Park.
Although Commissioner Joe Grandy, chairman of the Budget Committee, said the expense would be supplemented through grants received by the state and the Tennessee Valley Authority, the commission voted to increase its contract by $98,760.
Only $35,000 of that total is actually allocated toward fixing the sinkhole, Grandy said, and the remainder will go toward controlling and preventing erosion and sediment.