Voters got the opportunity Tuesday to hear from and pose questions to all five Johnson City Commission candidates seeking election this November during a forum hosted by the Johnson City Press at Memorial Park Community Center.
Two seats on the City Commission will be filled Nov. 6, and at least one new member will be elected as Mayor David Tomita chose not to seek reelection.
East Tennessee State University student David Adams, incumbent Vice Mayor Jenny Brock, Gray resident Jeff Clark, veteran William “Bud” Hill and businessman John Hunter outlined their experience and what ideas they would bring to the governing body, should they be elected.
Brock first discussed her experience teaching at education levels before transitioning to the private sector, where she worked for two Fortune 500 companies.
“The thing I learned from both of those experiences, over 30 years, was about relationships. You really can’t do business or be an effective teacher without having the ability to forge great relationships with people. Because you can’t do it by yourself, it takes working with other people,” Brock said.
Citing Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Lee’s phrase “Experience Matters,” Hunter said he believes experience truly does matter when it comes to serving on the City Commission.
“Johnson City operates on a little over a quarter billion dollar budget and oversees nearly a thousand employees in 20 departments. We need people who have a background and experience at an executive function, and I believe I bring that as CEO of a local financial institution,” Hunter said.
“I’ve got the background and understanding of budgets, of managing people, of forward-thinking and being proactive. Johnson City needs leadership that’s ready to hit the ground running, and this is not necessarily an opportunity just to learn.”
Hill talked about how once he got out of the military, he took up a woodworking career before moving into the aerospace industry.
Adams, who said his 23rd birthday is Wednesday, said he believed his youthfulness could actually be an asset to the commission.
“I think my youthfulness can be an asset if it’s leveraged correctly. I have a tech background, and the average public official doesn’t know a bit from a byte. I can relate to the needs of tomorrow’s economic drivers and young professionals,” Adams said.
Clark also touched on his youthfulness, saying Johnson City’s working-class youth should have a representative they can relate to.
“I am not independently wealthy. My family doesn’t come from a wealthy background. I don’t know what it’s like not to live paycheck-to-paycheck and rent month-to-rent month. The majority of people in this city also know that life, and I think the Board of Commissioners should also reflect that. They should reflect the fact that Johnson City is not just retirees. It’s also working-class youth,” Clark said.
In addition to experience, the candidates deliberated a host of issues, including how Johnson City leaders should address school funding with Washington County and their thoughts on regionalism.
While it’s being advertised as a new idea, Hill said he believes regionalism has been around for years, beginning with the inception of the Tri-Cities Airport.
“The commission they’ve used to run that airport is a good example because it’s been working all these years,” Hill said.
Later, when asked about promoting diversity, Hill talked about growing up in Johnson City during segregation and how it has influenced his outlook.
“The diversity I see now ... I see my kids and grandkids grow up different than what I did. It’s a blessing. Whatever reason, the good Lord put us here to be as one, and if we act as one, we can accomplish more,” Hill said.
As far as addressing school funding, Brock proposed an educational task force to figure out a compromise on school project funding so that both the county and city school systems can succeed.
Hunter similarly recommended that both commissions meet and hash out a way to share the tax dollars, which are currently being directed into only the county’s capital projects fund.
Clark proposed looking at why Washington County resorted to creating a capital projects fund to begin with, and Adams said the city needed to get a grip on the situation.
“Regionalism and infighting don’t go hand-in -hand. We need to get a grip on this, and we need to get a grip on this fast,” Adams said. “Communication would prevent this. Like I suggested earlier, quarterly meetings with the County Commission are a great idea. It’s been mentioned before in previous races, but it’s never fully materialized. Leadership is changing here and in Washington County, and I think it’s time to press the reset button.”
To watch the full forum, which also featured all six Johnson City Board of Education candidates, visit https://bit.ly/2Pnzxyk.