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County mayor candidates differ on debt

Robert Houk • Apr 10, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Two of the three Republican candidates for county mayor spoke to Washington County Republican Women on Monday, and both talked about the county government’s debt. However, former County Commissioner Mark Ferguson and County Commissioner Joe Grandy had opposing views on who is to blame for that debt and how it should be retired.

Johnson City Mayor David Tomita did not attend the forum. WCRW President Sharon Boreing told club members Tomita had been “called out of town.”

The Republican Way

Each candidate was given 10 minutes to speak. Ferguson, who went first, said Grandy has incorrectly accused him of solely building up a $70 million debt while he served on the County Commission from 2005 to 2010.

“Just me, nobody else,” Ferguson said. “If you don’t believe me, just ask my opponent.”

Ferguson, who lost a re-election bid in 2014, said he was proud to have served on “a strong commission” that approved a 23-cent property tax hike. Ferguson said he and his colleagues found “common ground” to create what he called a “record of accomplishments,” including building two new county schools, a new criminal justice center and expanding the county’s Detention Center.

“Yes, I voted to pay the bills, but I don’t like debt,” he said.

If elected, Ferguson said he would “shut the back door” on spending and run the mayor’s office “the Republican way — like Lincoln, Reagan and Trump”

A Debt-Free Future

Grandy told WCRW members he believes his academic and business backgrounds make him the best qualified person in the race to serve as county mayor. He said his plan is to reduce the the county’s debt load — which he said costs taxpayers some $1 million a month — with a plan calling for a “longer vision, less taxes and a stronger region.”

Since he was elected to the County Commission, Grandy said he and his colleagues have “slowed the county’s debt,” which had “grown 24 times faster” between 2006 and 2010. He said he has been a part of a county government that has cut the number of county commissioners from 25 to 15 in the current election and has saved taxpayers $200,000 a year by axing commission pensions and travel expenses.

Grandy said his plan for the county is to build new schools with “cash down.”

“The solution is simple: Cash not credit is the Republican principle,” he said

A United GOP

At the start of the meeting on Monday, WCRW Chaplain Debra Whitworth reminded Republican Women “we are the party of unity,” and urged members to remain “Republicans united.” The WCRW forum was the first gathering of candidates for mayor since a similar forum that was to be held Saturday by the Washington County Republican Party was canceled.

Party leaders called off that forum after Ferguson called a news conference to allege “the deck is stacked” against him and he would not participate in the forum.

“Any suggestion that the event was ‘rigged’ is not reality based,” Dr. W. Turney Williams, Washington County Republican Party chairman, wrote in an email.

The party chairman also said he had “received text messages delineating specific concerns regarding candidate safety.”

Ferguson also talked to reporters last week about a 2014 video recorded on a cellphone by former Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe following a meeting of a Republican group. The video shows Ferguson pointing his finger at Wolfe and saying, “You’re a chicken-s***, no good son of a bi***.”

Ferguson apologized for his language in the video, telling reporters: “That’s not me,” he said. “It was an ugly conversation, but it was private until now.”

The winner of the GOP race will face independent candidate James Reeves in the Aug. 2 general election. Early voting for the May 1 Republican Primary begins Wednesday and ends April 26.

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