Council Candidate Forum

The format of tonight’s forum will be that each question will be answered by two candidates, then they’ll go on to the next question, and next two candidates answering.  With ten candidates in the running, it should be answering.

Tom Beehan opens with a brief biography.  He has been on City Council for eight years.  We’re beginning to address the issue of crime in our neighborhoods with increased patrols; we’ve begun to address housing and our older neighborhoods.  Lastly, we’re improving retail, particularly in working with some of the small retail neighborhoods like Jackson Square.

Jimmy Bouchard is introduced next; he doesn’t think that experience should be measured for this office, as he comes from the “best high school in America.”  The high school senior will turn 18 on May 22, qualifying him for office.  He says that he will not vote his own convictions, but those expressed by the people.  He plans to major in nuclear engineering at UTK next year.  He’d like to diversify the city’s economy by supporting small businesses; he’d like to go ahead and build the new senior center that was promised.

Anne Garcia Garland follows, citing that she no longer has any ties to special interests like DOE and their contractors.  She’s not entirely happy with the way things have gone recently, with a Council who claims to know what is best.  “Oak Ridgers need to decide who we’re going to be when we grow up.”  We need to take care of the existing retail we have, in order to encourage others to come.

John Alex Groff works at ORNL, at the SNS.  Vision for Oak Ridge: the population today is the same as it was when he was born.  Growing the population depends on growing the industrial base.  Why haven’t we tried to entice some of the off-road industry to Oak Ridge, with more than 700 miles of off road trails nearby?  

Rick Hasbrouck notes the lack of retail, and that improving retail would ease the property tax burden.  We need to add police officers rather than relying on overtime.  Says that he is new to Oak Ridge.

Martin McBride: undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Delaware, married 35 years.   Got his graduate degree in bionucleonics.  Worked the cleanup at Three Mile Island, then moved to oak Ridge to work for DOE.

Jane Miller has been an Oak Ridger since the age of three; she works in PR for BWXT.  She is disappointed in the last couple of years, but thinks that we’ve gone overboard with citizen input to the point of not being able to accomplish anything.  We need to be more flexible, more business-friendly, and need to treat our citizens as our customers.  Small, one-issue groups should not be able to halt progress; public input is important, but Council must make the hard decisions.  We need that can-do, Manhattan Project attitude that we’ve always had.

David Mosby, trusted for the last eight years on Council, is “ready to continue the work that we have started.”  Property tax revenue has been increased about $1M from the new, privately-owned DOE buildings.  Supports new initiatives like the recycling plan, the sustainability plan, and the acquisition of hybrid vehicles for the City.  We have to find better and more effective ways to combat crime and drugs.  We need to pay attention to our seniors, and to keep the pressure off of our property taxes.

Eric Tobler, an Oak Ridge native (1983 graduate), worked for Bechtel then Y-12.  Following a boating accident, he started Tobler Enterprises, which is both a landscaping and development enterprise.  Owns residential and retail property in Oak Ridge — if OakRidge fails, he will fail.

Tony Turner is a West Point graduate.  Followng his military retirement, he settled in Oak Ridge — his first hometown.  He is the program manager for Homeland Security at ORNL.  The City needs leadership now, vision + action.

(End of the introductory speeches)

Stan Mitchell asks: what does the City need to do to get citizen support for projects?

David Mosby responds that citizens have ample opportunity for input, and that they exercise those opportunities.

Tobler: Council needs to share what their goals are; we’re not sure what the goals and vision are.  If Council would show their plan to the citizens, then people would understand where we’re going.  It seems like all the talk is about taxes.

Q) What do you think the City could do to attract more young families, and what will happen if we don’t?

McBride: The City has a problem due to certain constraints.  We have, for so long, allowed people at ORNL and Y-12 to drift away from Oak Ridge, so when someone new comes in, they’re surrounded by people who live in Farragut instead of here.  First, we have to get them interested in coming here.

Garland: We need a different approach.  We need to concentrate in attracting the kind of families who would want to live here; for people who want to escape big city life and rat races elsewhere.  We should advertise to specific target audiences.  If we can make the town feel friendly to small business, that’s who takes the risk.

Q) What would you do to enhance revenues for the City:

Beehan: Because of a different relationship with DOE, we didn’t have to raise property taxes.  Some of the innovations like the private buildings are really helping.  The stimulus and cleanup programs have insulated us from the woes that other cities are facing.  DOE is the 900-lb gorilla in town, and the best way to deal with it is to work with them.

Groff: Growth is the answer.  We can grow through industry, retail, or commerical, but we have to grow.  We have to market ourselves to these businesses.  We have to work with City staff to help them understand we must bend over backward to make business welcome.  Voted against Crestpoint, but now realizes his error.

Q) Is there anything specifically that we could do as a City to attract more retailers?

Bouchard: Retailers look at many different aspects, such as demand and demographics.  It’s hard for a city our size to attract them, unless we show that we can attract more people to live and shop here.  A tax abatement would show that we are committed to helping them.

Hasbrouck: Need to work closely with the Chamber of Commerce; we need to advertise to let others know that Oak Ridge is open for business.  The realtor that was bringing Target, is no longer interested in working within Oak Ridge.

Q) What do you think should be the City’s #1 priority?

Miller: Jobs, housing, and retail.  We’re fine on jobs, we’re improving on housing, but our main problem is retail — one of the two only ways to get money into the City.  We can’t address other things until we fix that problem.

Turner: Crime is our most pressing issue.  We have a higher crime rate than most of the rest of Tennessee.  Most of our crime is driven by the drug trade.   Anderson County is the only county in our region that is not affiliated with the High Intensity Drug Trafficing Area effort.

Q) After a string of home invasions, has the additional overtime patrols and neighborhood watch been effective?

Hasbrouck: I haven’t seen the stats to know if we’re making progress or not.  Instead of overtime, we need to expand the police force.  Police and landlords can solve the problem.

Groff: I think these measures have been effective.  Criminals are getting caught, but they’re getting smarter.  They’re carrying smaller amounts of drugs, not carrying weapons, so they get less time.  We have eighty-some people in the police department, but only half of those on patrol.  We have eighty-some personnel in parks and recreation.  Overtime is not the answer.  We can’t afford to have someone out there who’s been working 16 hours straight.

Q) Roane State is trying to raise $5M; do you support the City contribution of $500k.

Mosby: I’m concerned about the repayment method, but appreciate the benefit that Roane State brings and think it will pay dividends in the long run.

McBride: I fully support that.  Where is the money coming from?  I would reduce the City’s lobbyist contract to find (part of) the money.  Our schools need continued funding increases, along with police and fire.  We must prioritize, and we take money from things at the bottom of the list.

Q) How does the City move forward, while preserving our historic areas?

Tobler: We cannot hold on to dilapidated buildings; if somehting must be preserved, could we use volunteer effort to do so?  Sometimes, volunteers are chastized for their efforts.

Garland: If we’re going to move forard, we have to know what direction “forward” is.  Am not necessarily a proponent of growth for the sake of growth.  I support any and all historical projects that do not require the City borrowing money.

Q) What is your take on the marina redevelopment?

Miller: I am in favor of the redevelopment.  I don’t want to harm the natural beauty, but think that we should have appropriate restaurants, restroom facilities, human-powered sports businesses.  But, we have to work with the developer, because the City does not have the money to fund it.  Does not want motorized boats there.

Bouchard: development of the marina is crucial.  The development shows that Oak Ridge cares about the options and opportunities, but we’ve done very little to promote the second-best rowing venue in the whole country.

Q) What is your position on red light and speed enforcement cameras in Oak Ridge?

Turner: I’m against the cameras, because of the very emotional reaction generated amongst the citizens.  I did not find a competting reason that justified installation against the will of the citizens.

Beehan: The cameras are part of an overall program to protect the children in this community.  The red light cameras are the same kind of technology as radar was a few years ago.  We have new school zones, we have crossing guards, and we’ve gotten a safe schools grant.  The cameras are not about revenue, they’re about safety.

Q) The majority of people at the DOE facilities live outside Oak Ridge.  Why do you think that is?

Groff: One of the reasons is because that’s where their co-workers live.  Once people get in the hands of Knoxville realtors, they’re lost to us.  We need a relocation specialist.  We have so much that Knoxville doesn’t have, but people don’t know that.

Hasbrouck: It’s not just DOE, it’s a lot of our employers.  A lot of it is that the Knoxville realtors get to them first.  Part of the problem is that our property tax rate is so high.  Red light cameras won’t help, either.

Q) Do we need a new senior center, and how do we fund it?

Miller: I think we’d all love to see a new senior center, but until we have more revenue, we cannot address these new issues (like police, Roane State, etc.).

Beehan: I’d love to have a new senior center, but we’re in a 5-year contract with the current building.  The building is only a place — we also need to look at the services offered, and those may be located elsewhere.  Back to police, no one is working 18 hours.  We are applying for five new officers under the stimulus funding.  The best way to address the problem NOW is to reward our officers with overtime.

Q) If you’re elected, how would you operate as a leader?

Bouchard: If elected, I promise that my seat will be a seat for the people.  No small group should hold up anything, but public opinion matters a great deal.  I will bring enthusiasm, a new viewpoint.  We need to target the 18-35 age group.

Turner: Leadership is the ability to influence people.  I have the ability to follow through.

Q) Share your opinions on west end development?

McBride: One of our significant challenges is that we’re a long, thin city.  The west end looks like a golden opportunity to develop retail centers, which turn out to be quite important.  One of our largest new developments is on the extreme west end, and we’ve invested a great deal in the infrastructure to get there.  We are in competition, and we have to develop the entire city.

Garland: Ditto.  If we can continue to encourage people to love their neighborhoods, we should do just fine there.

Q) The City has a tax abatement policy, awarding levels of support depending on the level of investment.  Do you support it, and why or why not?

Mosby: I support an abatement policy.  The abatement doesn’t make the deal, but is considered as something factored into the business plan.  It needs to be flexible, but structured enough so that there’s a reasonable assurance of a return on investment.  I would like to see it change to address the under-utilized properties, and try to help us grow the west end.

Tobler: Tax abatements can be a good thing, but need to be considered individually.  Big businesses push for them the hardest, but the small businesses usually need them the most.  We need to be ready to negotiate, so that more money can come back to the city once they’re on their feet.

AUDIENCE QUESTIONS: (Selected in random order)

Q) Why can’t we encourage all city employees to live here:

Turner: I have no idea why they would not.   We need to talk to the new employees and tell them the positive things about Oak Ridge.

Q) The percentage of economically disadvantaged kids in the school system is reaching new highs.  what would you propose to do?

Tobler: Get with the school board and empower them to do what needs to be done.

Q) Will you support a property tax increase to finance the city’s needs?

Mosby: it depends.  I ama proponent for trying to hold back on tax increases by finding new revenue sources, such as by the new alternative financed DOE buildings.  We’re trying to become more efficient.

Q) What are your plans for the waterfront, and have we asked for input from our rowing customers?

Miller: The city has been involved with rowing, and have an ongoing good relationship with the rowing community.  I’m not sure if we can measure the return on investment, but it’s a quality of life issue, and I don’t want to see it go away.

Q) How do you feel about fees, tolls, wheel tax on non-resident workers?

McBride: Memphis has struggled with this, having the highest property tax rate in the state.  I don’t favor that kind of option, because we might damage the relationship with those kinds of tactics.  I prefer a congressional investment, due to the service we provide for the nation.

Q) Should Oak Ridge focus on manufacturing business on the west end, being closest to the interstate?

Hasbrouck: We need to focus on business everywhere in the city.

Q) What steps will you take to improve housing, through incentives to homeowners?

Groff: There are several programs at the lab that deal directly with residential energy efficiency.  Unfortunately, none of those are in Oak Ridge.  Why not?

Q) Should the City use eminent domain to acquire the Alexander Inn for renovation?

Garland: I don’t really know the parameters.  I would reserve eminent domain for only the most critical community projects.  Taking property is pretty un-American.  We should have codes to prevent property owners from allowing their property to deteriorate.  We can condemn, but we cannot just take.

Q) How will you ensure that a developer who commits to a major project, will follow through and complete the project?

Bouchard: I would carefully consider the project at the outset, before it is started.  Follow through should be ensured before the developer begins.

Q) How can we encourage more business on Illinois, and keep Woodland homeowners happy?

Beehan: I don’t know.  We did a corridor study which now establishes guidelines as to how far you can go into a neighborhood, so now developers know what they can do, and homeowners know what they can do.  We’ve done good studies on the marina, and on sustainability; we could build consensus on other subjects as well.

Q) Is there too much cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce?

Turner: Since we have a contract, the relationship really should be client-customer.  But it needs to be more than that; it should be cooperative.  The Chamber does what it is called to do in its contract.  The relocation specialist is a tremendous opportunity.  The City could listen more to the chamber, particularly in removing the obstacles to new businesses coming in.

Q) What do you recommend to change the image of becoming old, to becoming younger and more vibrant.

Tobler: promote the lake and the schools.  bring people from Knoxville to events in Oak Ridge — concerts, etc.  We need to create places for people to have fun.

Q) If you could only accomplish one thing, what would it be?

Mosby: I would like to see the community figure out that it is a special place, and develop into something that is attractive, so it’s not hard to entice people and businesses to come here.

Q) Do you support capping property taxes for seniors, based upon economic need?

Miller: I think we need to study that, and we need to do that.

Q) What action plan to you have for a serious effort to develop the Oak Ridge Mall?

McBride: The mall occupies a very central place in our city.  No meaningful progress has occurred in the last 7 years.  We need to take initiative on the mall covenants; Wal-Mart has an incredible amount of influence over the rest of the property.  We need to approach Wal-Mart and ask for a break on the restrictions.

Q) How can a city like Maryville/Alcoa have extensive retail, when Oak Ridge doesn’t?

Hasbrouck: I don’t know.  There is opportunity in this city.  All of the anchors have stipulations in place at the mall; maybe that’s where we need to consider eminent domain.

Q) Where do the schools fall in your budget priorities?

Groff: I have two kids in school.  Education is #1 priority.  We have to focus on increasing education.  I’d like to see the vo-tech programs come back.

Q) What would you do to help the older retail centers?

Garland: We need to make adjustments to our sign ordinances, with signs on the turnpike for these business areas, directing traffic to these off-turnpike shopping centers.  Advocates forming a “small business” chamber of commerce, to strengthen their influence.

Q) What are your suggestions for older housing?

Bouchard: I am a proponent for reinforcing our residential neighborhoods.  We could extend incentives to homeowners to improve their buildings; the City could do something with the properties that have fallen under par.  The City could revise one portion of the city to like-new 1940s condition.  

Q) What would you propose to reduce crime in Oak Ridge?

Beehan: I would call a meeting of the police chief, sheriff, and district attorney, to establish cooperation and run the drug dealers out of town.  We need to bring on the five new police officers.  The neighborhood watch program is very successful, and I’m very proud of them.  It’s incredible the things that are happening.

Q) When consensus cannot be achieved, how to proceed?

Turner: on Council, the majority wins.  That doesn’t necessarily work with the citizens.  But at some point, you have to lead — vote your vision.

Tobler: you’re never going to make everybody happy, so you have to make the best decision for the city.

Mosby: A lot of times, we bail out before consensus can be reached.

Miller: Just the people at the microphone doesn’t necessarily represent the majority — phone callls and e-mails also factor in.

McBride: the high school project was the best example of building consensus.  The more that Council can do that, the more successful we’re going to be.

Hasbrouck: Consensus is a difficult thing among seven people, much less 27,000.  That said, more surveys would be a useful thing.

Groff: Dissent gives you the opportunity to explore the reasons for differing opinions.  You want everyone to walk away feeling like they got a good deal.

Garland: I don’t think the citizens expect consensus, but they expect an opportunity to be heard and considered.

Bouchard: Communication goes hand-in-hand with consensus.

Beehan: Consensus is good and I wish we could do it on every issue, but that’s not possible.  We do get a lot of communication, especially via e-mail.  There are issues where we do need to communicate better.  Ultimately, our job is to make the best decision we can based on the information we have.  It’s like sausage — you like the end product, but making it is not pretty.

The forum will air on BBB (channel 12).  Air times will be posted on www.bbbtv12.com.

13 Responses to “Council Candidate Forum”

  1. on 12 May 2009 at 7:32 pm girlfriend

    Thanks Netmom. Great synopsis of each candidate. Helps put clearity regarding them.

  2. on 12 May 2009 at 8:50 pm Mike

    Thanks Netmom. Great job. The forum is turning out to be really long and repetitive.

    I wish I had asked a question about why Council originally voted against rezoning of the Union Valley track for a Pilot.

  3. on 12 May 2009 at 8:52 pm Mike

    I was impressed with different aspects from Turner and Tobbler but both have left me with some questions.

  4. on 12 May 2009 at 9:10 pm Joel

    Netmom, I don’t have a dog in this fight, but from where I sit, you have done an outstanding service with this post! I hope this site gets lots of hits, and that Oak Ridgers read your careful transcription.

    Great job!

  5. on 12 May 2009 at 10:20 pm Trina

    Very informative. Thanks for doing this.

  6. on 13 May 2009 at 8:40 am Miriam

    I took notes as well, but they are sketchy. This will be a very nice reference. I wish I were ready to make a decision, but liked aspects of each candidate. I thought the forum was well done.

  7. on 13 May 2009 at 11:06 am Cowboy

    WOW! Great job Netmom. Who needs to attend if you are going to be there with laptop in hand. Thanks for posting.

  8. on 13 May 2009 at 6:14 pm voter person

    It was nice to be able to sit on my couch, laptop in lap reading your blog. I have made my mind up about two candidates, two are still up for grabs. One I dismissed just because of his lack of respect for other candidates when putting up his signs. He blocked the other candidates signs. When you don’t respect your opposition, you are unable to work with them if you are elected. Little things like that help me in making my decisions. It shows the character of the candidate.

  9. on 14 May 2009 at 3:44 pm Mytwocents

    Voter person: You are basing your opinion and vote on the position of the candidates sign? How do you know the candidate actually placed the sign there? Did you witness this? Most of the time they have campaign workers and volunteers place their signs for them.

  10. on 14 May 2009 at 6:47 pm voter person

    The choice of your campaign workers also shows your character.

  11. on 14 May 2009 at 8:19 pm Joel

    “The choice of your campaign workers also shows your character.”

    This is just silly.

  12. on 16 May 2009 at 3:19 pm CrackerNation

    Actually, if you knew which candidate she was referring to, it would be confirmation of other impressions and history.

    This observation about signs might be downright insightful.

  13. on 17 May 2009 at 12:51 pm Joel

    CN,

    The choice by a specific candidate of a specific campaign worker may reflect some aspect of character.

    The stated generalization that the choice of campaign workers in general says anything about candidates (who often don’t even select many of the campaign workers) is just silly.

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