Incumbent aldermen Gary Chandler, Mark Lafever and Virgil Moore are facing challenges from former alderman Michael Baker, Timothy Shelton and Stephen Wilson. Each of the candidates answered the following questions to help voters make their choices.
1.Tell us a little about yourself including employment, work history, family, other?
Michael Baker: I love living in Erwin with my wife, Tara, and our son, Liam. I have been a real estate agent at The Brokers Realty & Auction for more than three years while Tara is an English teacher at Chuckey-Doak High School. Together, we opened the Union Street Taproom in downtown Erwin. While we both love our careers, we wanted to pursue our entrepreneur spirits and invest in downtown Erwin by opening Union Street Taproom. We hope that it will bring more people downtown while also creating a place for the community to come and socialize.
Gary Chandler: A native of Unicoi County, I was born on Spivey Mountain. My family came to this area in the mid 1800s from North Carolina. As a youth, I worked on our farm. Upon graduating from Unicoi County High School I lived in Washington, D.C., where I was employed by the U.S. Post Office and a major grocery chain. I returned to Erwin and found employment with Nuclear Fuel Services, where I worked for nine years. Following my employment with NFS, I was employed by Clinchfield Railroad and retired as a roadmaster from CSX Transportation (formerly Clinchfield) after 30 years of service. During my employment with the railroad, we lived in Fairhope, Ala., LaGrange, Ga., and Lexington, Ky. Upon retirement, we returned to Erwin to be near our children and aging parents. My wife, Betty, and I have been married 52 years and have two children, a daughter, Fran Strickland, who is a teacher in the Unicoi County School System, and our son, Gary Chandler Jr., who is employed with Farm Bureau of Tennessee. We have four grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Mark Lafever: I am currently the operations manager at Unicoi County Gas Utility District. I worked at Liberty Lumber/Ace Hardware for more than a decade and managed the store for several of those years. After retail, I served as the town of Erwin public works director for three years. During that time I was directly involved in Erwin’s downtown revitalization by working with all local businesses in the downtown area on a daily basis. My desire to see my hometown’s continued success and growth is evident in my commitment to the community. I have served as an alderman for the town of Erwin since the age of 23. I serve on the board of directors for CHIPS in Erwin and am also a founding member of R.I.S.E. Erwin.
Virgil Moore: Born in Kingsport, I graduated from Chruch Hill High School and served a four-year apprenticeship at Tennessee Eastman before going to work as maintenance mechanic for Chemtron Corp. in Newport. I came to Erwin In 1961 to take a job for Hoover Precision Products and was promoted to my first supervisory position a year and a half later. Prior to my retirement, my management positions at Hoover included maintenance supervisor, manufacturing manager and temporary plant manager. I am a member of First Baptist Church of Erwin, where I serve as deacon and Sunday school director. I am a lifelong member of the Masonic Lodge and have served in leadership roles for numerous community service organizations, including Erwin Jaycees, the Blue Devil Sports Club, the YMCA board of directors, the United Way campaign and American Red Cross blood collection for Unicoi County. I have served on the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen for the past six years. I was married to the late Barbara Harrison Moore for 61 years. I have three sons, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Timothy Shelton: My name is Timothy H. Shelton. Most people know me as “Trainwreck.” I’ve lived most of my live in Unicoi and moved to Erwin about 17 years ago. I got married to my wonderful wife in 2012. I started volunteering with Limestone Cove Fire Department in 1988, started working for the Erwin Emergency Rescue Squad in 1992 and worked EMS for every ambulance service that has had the contract in Unicoi County. In 2001, I became a reserve deputy for the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department. In 2007, I started working in the main jail part time. In 2008, I went full time as the county animal control officer, worked there until 2013 then went back to work in the main jail as a correction officer.
Stephen Wilson: I currently own a business in Erwin. I went to work right out of high school as a correction officer in the Unicoi County Jail and I have worked in security at the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital for several years.
2. Why are you running for alderman and/or what personal qualities will you bring to town government?
Michael Baker: I am running for alderman to help further the town as a whole. I believe our future is bright and I want to be part of the positive change! I think the best quality that I bring to the board is that I am a young business professional that has fresh new ideas and is ready to think outside the box. I also believe that one of my best qualities in business is that of communication. I hope to contribute more to this aspect for the Board of Mayor and Aldermen because I believe it is extremely important to have open communication between our constituents, the board and the media.
Gary Chandler: I have been an alderman for several years. I have enjoyed serving the people of Erwin and working to make this a better place to live and work. I have enjoyed serving my community and working with our youth through school sports and as member of Centenary United Methodist Church and civic organizations. I believe that I can listen to others and learn from them. I believe that I have been honest in dealing with others and hope they feel the same. I have offered ideas as an alderman and hope that I have encouraged others to do the same. As an alderman, I have worked to drastically slow increases in property taxes. At the same time, I have worked in the creation of a new hospital here in Erwin for the benefit of our citizens. We have worked to create recreational opportunities through the Linear Trail and various parks in Erwin.
Mark Lafever: While growing up here, I have developed a strong sense of community pride. Over the years I have been fortunate enough to be around many small business owners that still fill our downtown today. After working in one of those small businesses for several years, I understand the importance of hard work and local support. I’ve worked hand in hand with citizens during my stint as Public Works director as well as my current position at the Unicoi County Gas Utility District. I have spent my entire life working in and around this community and would appreciate the opportunity to continue to serve.
Virgil Moore: I have leadership qualities I developed over the 50 years I have been in Erwin. All the experience I had in working with youth and civic organizations over the years leading up my appointment to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and my service on the board for the past six years.
Timothy Shelton: It has been my dream to run for a public office. I will do my very best to help my fellow citizens and neighbors to the best of my ability that would to help the town to prosper. I will listen to the people that are concerned about the taxes and what they are used for. If elected I promise, I will do my very best for the citizens in the town and listen to their concerns. I will give you a voice for what you the taxpayers want and how your taxes are used.
Stephen Wilson: There are probably no qualifications that set me apart from other candidates. I love this town and I am committed to serving the people of the town of Erwin, researching issues and working to find solutions that will provide a better opportunity for everyone.
3. What do you consider to be the biggest issue(s) facing the town and as aldermen how would you like to address them.
Michael Baker: Our biggest issue facing the town is that of economic development. I do believe that the Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County is at the strongest point that it ever has been and I applaud them for that! I just believe that economic development is still our biggest issue and that we have a lot to work on in that area for our town to reach its fullest potential. With that being said, as an alderman I would be the biggest supporter of the economic development board and would not stand in the way of anything positive for our town. I am a strong supporter of the economic board and any incentive packages we need to make in order to recruit more businesses and industries to Unicoi County.
Gary Chandler: We have several issues facing our town at this time. In my opinion, we must provide safety and the necessities of life for our residents. People need jobs in order to provide for their families. This means a sustainable wage in order that we can give not only our youth but our elderly what they must have. I believe strongly and am thankful for the role that our civic organizations and churches play in providing for others. We must continue to help keep our community strong. One issue that has not fully been addressed is that of an ambulance service for our county. While this is a county and city issue, we must all be involved.
Mark Lafever: Keeping our town relevant in today’s ever-growing market. We need to continually think outside the box and come up with new ideas on industry, tourism and infrastructure improvements, all while keeping in touch with our core values and standards, Putting less financial burden on our citizens and making sure we are maximizing our profitability on tourists and visitors. Competing with larger cities and communities on attracting industries. With new ideas and a more progressive outlook on economic development, we have been able to secure new businesses over the past few years but we need more. Working with regional partners and utilizing new ideas, we can and will continue to be successful.
Virgil Moore: One of the biggest issues we have is keeping the tax rate as low as possible in our city while we continue our efforts to have more activities downtown that get more people coming into the downtown area and also maintain our police and fire department protection. I believe the biggest issue we have is trying to seek new industry. That’s probably the number one thing.
Timothy Shelton: The biggest issues that I can see is the increasing issues of our tax dollars and how they are used. I have seen our taxes increase year after year and I will try my best to listen to the citizens of their concerns and bring those concerns to the BMA meetings and have them addressed.
Stephen Wilson: 1) Taxes. If elected, I will not vote on increased taxes until proper research is done to ensure the elimination of wasteful spending and research has been done to find other revenue to support the needs of the town. 2) Participation. The most important single responsibility of an alderman is participation at BMA meetings and to vote on every matter before the board. 3) Protecting the welfare of the city and its residents. 4) Basic Policies. An alderman should devote their official time to problems of basic policy and act as a liaison between the town of Erwin and the public. Aldermen should be concerned, not only with the conduct of daily matters, but also the future development of the town of Erwin.
4. What do you consider to be the most essential service(s) the the town provides.
Michael Baker: I believe public safety is our most essential service. I applaud the town of Erwin’s police, fire and public works departments. The three departments work diligently to keep us safe and offer a higher quality of life in the town of Erwin. As an alderman, I would like to see all departments provided with the best equipment out there.
Gary Chandler: The safety of our town and its residents is my foremost concern. We look at other locations and cities and see crime on every turn. Erwin has recently received one of the highest ratings for safety in the state of Tennessee. We have an excellent police department, fire department, street department, all the elements that make this town special. Erwin is fortunate to have excellent employees in all departments. Work is essential to any community and the town leaders realize this. We are thankful for NFS and the many opportunities they provide for Erwin and Unicoi County. But we need even more industry and business to grow into a stronger town. To help in this regard, I would like to see our citizens attend the BMA meetings and learn more about what the city leaders do and to give us their ideas. We all have a voice in making Erwin even better.
Mark Lafever: Overall our essential services as a whole are all very important and bring so much to the table in terms of providing for our city. I can’t say which is the most important, but I will say that all the departments, police, parks, public works and fire, do a tremendous job and deserve more recognition than they receive. They provide clean and safe environments and work efficiently to get the job done.
Virgil Moore: We provide a lot of things that people in other cities have to pay for, like garbage pickup. We provide police protection and have been determined to be one of the safest cities in Tennessee. We provide a police department and a fire department that do a tremendous job. We provide a good (city) workforce that people can depend on. That’s the most essential thing you have to have.
Timothy Shelton: As I said before, I’m new to politics and I will listen to the citizens of the town and try by best to get answers on those concerns. I believe what the town of Erwin needs is “new blood” in our town and that’s is what I’m offering to the town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
Stephen Wilson: All services are important with our town. It’s takes everyone and every department working together to make our town successful for the business owners and the citizens.