The early voting period runs April 11-26. The primary is May 1.
The GOP field includes County Commissioner Joe Grandy, former Commissioner Mark Ferguson and Johnson City Mayor David Tomita. The GOP’s winner will face independent candidate James Reeves in the August general election.
Grandy, Ferguson and Tomita all responded to the Chamber’s questions. Reeves did not. Candidates were asked to limit their answers to 50 words or less.
What qualifications do you bring to the office of Mayor?
Ferguson: After nearly 40 years of building successful small businesses, and many years in public service, I believe I have a clear understanding of the principles necessary for responsible government, and an eagerness to work with other elected officials to achieve the highest efficiency we can.
Grandy: The County mayor is a Leadership and Management position. I have over 40 years of management and Leadership experience growing a business from a few associates to a multi-million-dollar enterprise. I have held leadership roles in many organizations in our community over the years.
Tomita: Having served on both the Johnson City and Washington County Commissions, as well as being the current Mayor of Johnson City, I am uniquely qualified for the office of Washington County Mayor.
What are the top three priorities you will address after the election?
Ferguson: Trim and restrain spending. Establish solid working relationships with all elected officials and department heads necessary for success. Focus on previously underserved areas in our county.
Grandy: Continue to manage the county’s finances effectively while caring for our employees. Support education programs that create high achievement outcomes and expanded career Technical opportunities which our Economic Development Engine needs. Expand domestic water systems in unserved areas of our county.
Tomita: I will focus on the need for economic development. Intimately related to that is the need to address education, trade force funding and reddiness. We must also continue the fight to defeat the opioid crisis in our area.
How will you improve relationships through collaboration between Johnson City/Washington County/Jonesborough?
Ferguson: In the years of both public service, and private business, I have always found that good communications is the essential place to start. Trust is critical, along with the willingness to listen and consider all opinions and options.
Grandy: Communication is the key to improving the relationship between our community stakeholders. I will propose regular meetings with the key leaders, all sitting at one table to establish the vision. This is the process I used in business to expand and prepare for the future.
Tomita: The best way to increase collaboration is to unite behind common goals, improve efficiencies, eliminate redundancy, and grow our economy. A strong understanding of where those opportunities can be found is one of the strengths I will bring to this office.
How will you improve working relationships between Johnson City/Washington County Schools?
Ferguson: The mayor does not run either school system. Both have a “board of directors” elected by the people. They deserve to be treated with respect. They will always find me willing to listen to their concerns.
Grandy: Developing an understanding of the needs for both of the school systems is essential. Communication will be required to create the relationship between those people who have the obligation to support the needs. I will encourage both BOE’s to meet and be collaborative with available resources.
Tomita: The County Mayor can create a positive and supportive environment where the two systems can begin working together towards a common goal. It’s important to remember that statutorily the Mayor and Commission are the funding source allowing the School Boards to do their work well for our children and community.
Under what circumstances will you recommend property taxes be raised?
Ferguson: The county commission sets the tax rate. I believe the mayor, working in close cooperation with the commission, can help assess immediate budget needs, and places where expenses can be trimmed or postponed. We should only ask the taxpayer for more money as a very last resort.
Grandy: Provided the capital project plan is implemented and followed to manage existing debt and projected projects, there should be no need for a tax increase in the foreseeable future.
Tomita: A pledge to never raise taxes, although a good sound bit on the campaign trail, is unrealistic and irresponsible. That being said, as a fiscal conservative, a tax increase will always be my last resort after all other options have been carefully weighed.
How do you propose to broaden the tax base to increase revenue to the County?
Ferguson: Business, both small and large, is the key to growth. After many years on the Economic Development Board, I know it is vital for the mayor to set a positive tone and help rally all interested parties to achieve effective industrial recruitment and economic development.
Grandy: Regional cooperation across all of Northeast Tennessee is key to growing the tax base. This will improve our access to new economic development opportunities provided by the State of Tennessee. It would also allow us to leverage the resources for marketing our area for business and tourism.
Tomita: Invest in projects throughout the County that are less likely be duplicated n the internet. Unique business, shopping, dining, and recreational experiences will not only enhance the quality of life for our citizens but will attract folks from outside the area to visit and spend their money here.
How will you and the Commission work with the Johnson City/Jonesborough/Washington County Chamber of Commerce?
Ferguson: Of course I cannot speak for the commission. I consider the Chamber and its members to be an essential part of our community. My door would always be open, and I would be eager for any advice, wisdom or expertise the Chamber would share.
Grandy: As Mayor, I will support the chamber in its role to enhance and expand our business community and request the commission to do likewise. I will support the chamber’s role in Regional cooperation and take a leadership role in that effort.
Tomita: As we work toward regionalism, the County can work closely with the Chamber to encourage local cooperation as we work towards common goals.
In a time when there are more requests for services than there are resources, what is your approach and philosophy for budget management and fiscal responsibility?
Ferguson: It’s this simple: There are “needs” and “wants.” We must do everything we can to cover the needs. We may not be able to afford the wants.
Grandy: In government, as in business, all the needs must be prioritized. Separate the wants from needs. The basic functional government requirements of public safety and public health should be satisfied first, then work down the list of priorities of other services.
Tomita: It is essential that we set priorities most beneficial to all of our citizens. A government budget is similar to your household budget. Government leaders must look at each request individually, objectively, and thoroughly. If there are not sufficient funds we must begin to separate wants from needs.
What is your position on incentives in economic development?
Ferguson: I have always supported the principle. I would insist it be used cautiously, and thoughtfully.
Grandy: Economic Development is a competitive business. Incentives are a necessary part of business recruitment and expansion provided by a combination governmental entities. The issue is to include accountability metrics measure to measure and quantify the results and economic impact for our community.
Tomita: I wish they were not necessary but in today’s highly competitive environment we must use them wisely when warranted while making the same programs available to those employers that are already serving our community.
What is your strategy to enhance economic, community, and industrial development in Washington County and the region?
Ferguson: We should open up the process to get every insight from our local business people, and work closely with the business incubator at ETSU. Our strategy should be broad-based and flexible, yet also targeting focused, and neighborhood development, as thriving communities like Asheville are doing very well.
Grandy: The first priority is to improve and develop our available workforce. This is needed to serve our existing business base as well as recruitment. Next, we need to strategically invest in quality opportunities for business expansion and recruitment. Finally, support a regional effort to market and recruit new business.
Tomita: The best customer is the one you already have. We must continue to attract new business and industry while working with our current businesses to expand and improve.
Would you maintain or modify the capital improvement plan that is currently in place? Explain.
Ferguson: It is impossible to say with certainty, but I would imagine some modifications will be necessary, depending upon economic trends, interest rates and business forecasts.
Grandy: The capital plan that has been recently developed is a roadmap to manage a significant portion of the county’s finances and needs to be maintained. As with any business plan, this plan will need to be updated and modified on a regular basis as circumstances dictate.
Tomita: In today’s every changing economic environment it is folly to expect that as many 5 future Commissions will be managing in the same environment being projected through 2037. It is likely that funds currently committed for capital projects will be needed to address other needs. We need to adjust accordingly.
Why are you running for County Mayor?
Ferguson: I have spent a lifetime learning effective business principles, and the importance of getting a dollar’s worth of value for every dollar spent. I want to put that experience to work for the people of Washington County.
Grandy: To see my county thrive, providing an environment to retrain and attract the best. I bring the experience in Leadership and management required to make Washington County prosper and the unique ability to work with multiple levels of people across our city, town, region and state to achieve this vision.
Tomita: Washington County is my home. My primary motive for serving in public office is to help make our community a place where my children and their peers will want to raise their families. This is accomplished through providing career opportunities, great schools, and good quality of life.