Friday, July 23, 2010

County Commission District 2 Candidate Forum at Alexian Village

For those of you who missed the "debate" tonight at Alexian Village, I thought I would provide a brief summary. I should start by saying that I am neutral in this race and plan to remain so. Frankly, I don't know yet how I will vote. I did think the event was well-presented and efficiently run. I would have preferred a format which allowed questions from the audience, but the people at Alexian decided to come up with their own questions and not allow audience input. That was their decision and I respect that. Some of the questions were more oriented to hot-button national issues than local county commission issues, but there were several good local questions, too. Each candidate gave an opening statement primarily involving their biography and background. I refer readers to their websites for more info on that (links to their websites are on the side of the page). So, here are the questions and a summary of responses:

1. The first question was about the IB program at SMMHS and whether the candidates supported or opposed it. This question also mentioned the issue of how to fund it.

Cantrell stated that he supported the IB program and mentioned that he would encourage Volkswagen to help support it financially.

Fields stated he had only recently learned about IB and what it was really about and had decided that it was a "great program" and that he supported IB and its funding.

2. The second question asked how to maintain county revenues when the county offered tax breaks to businesses to come to Hamilton County.

Fields pointed out that only the county general taxes were affected and that the school portion of the taxes were still collected as a "payment in kind" from Volkswagen and other businesses. He suggested increasing tourism as a way of increasing county revenues.

Cantrell felt we should concentrate on a more diverse economy, especially emphasizing small businesses. He thought we should try for more federal money to incentivize "green" businesses and high tech business. He emphasized that, as a pilot he felt he understood the technical aspects of high-tech businesses such as turbines, etc and that this would be a plus for him as commissioner.

3. The candidates were asked how they felt about city/county consolidation.

Cantrell stated that his approach would be "show me the money", ie he would support consolidation where it was cost effective on a case-by-case basis.

Fields stated that he would support consolidation if the logistics could be worked out, mentioning differing procedures between county and city courts as an example. He also stated that he would look at cost savings.

4. The next few questions were, directed toward national "hot button" issues. The candidates were asked if they were for or against the national "Tea Party" movement.

Fields stated that he was very much in support of the movement.

Cantrell stated he was "neutral". He stated that he agreed that the Federal government was too big and expensive, but stated that services have to be paid for and that too often people only want to cut the services that they don't use. He stated that we have to walk the walk, not just "talk the talk".

5. The candidates were asked about illegal immigration and how Hamilton County should approach it.

Cantrell stated that immigration was a Federal obligation and that the Federal government should enforce the law.

Fields discussed getting education for the Sheriff's Department and to work with the Federal government. He stated he supported immigration laws.

Cantrell rebutted by stating that he thought the Sheriff's Dept. was already well-educated on the issue.

6. The next question was to ask which side of the 2nd amendment each candidate was on.

Fields stated he supported gun ownership and registration. He stated he doesn't own any guns himself.

Cantrell stated he did have a carry permit and that he opposed the "guns in bars" bill.

7. They were then asked where they stood on the separation of church and state and the teaching of religion in schools.

Cantrell stated he supported the separation of church and state. He stated he supported the teaching of comparative religion in school, but that support for religion in schools would depend on which side of the majority you were on.

Fields stated he supported the 1st amendment. He supported teaching Bible in schools as literature and history. He stated that teachers and students should be allowed to express their own opinions, but not impose them on others.

8. Another education question was asked. The question was essentially that 60-65% of the Hamilton County budget goes to education and since "many people in Signal Mountain opposed the new SMMHS", how did the candidates feel about that (I realize that is vague, but I didn't write the question down verbatim).

Fields stated that the County Commission passes the budget and the Board of Education decides how to spend education money. He suggested several ways to potentially enhance revenues for the schools:
a. work with state representatives to improve the state funding formula for education.
b. increase businesses in Hamilton County to increase revenue
c. modernize school facilities as a way to save money

Cantrell stated that since the high school was already built, opposition to it was "water under the bridge" and that we should make our schools as good as we can make them.

The candidates then were given the opportunity to ask each other a question. Cantrell stated that since he worked in Atlanta, he had no connections with local businesses. He asked Fields how he would handle any businesses that he had professional dealings with who came before the county. Fields responded that he dealt with this issue all the time as an attorney and that if it were a business that he represented, he would recuse himself.

Fields then asked Cantrell if he had received any contributions from any unions. Cantrell stated that, as an independent he "didn't have any help from anyone" (good laugh line for audience) and that specifically he had no contributions from PAC's or unions.

That was pretty much it. I sincerely hope that I have accurately reflected the intent of the questions and the responses and positions of the candidates. I urge anyone who was at the forum to comment and offer their impressions, especially if they differed from mine. I especially urge the candidates to respond if I have in any way misrepresented their positions or if they wish to expand or clarify any statements.

Finally, here is a video from TimesFreePress of Mr. Fields discussing term limits:

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Signal Mountain History

Just wanted to let y'all know about an excellent group of people, The Signal Mountain Genealogical Society. The planned a "history tour" or Signal Mountain for today, not knowing if there would be any interest. In reality, they had to expand it to two(!) tours as over 80 people signed up including my family. We had a delightful morning touring various Signal Mountain spots. We started At Bachman Community Center with a brief overview and powerpoint by Mrs. Jolley talking about the early history of Signal Mountain and the surrounding area (ie, starting at 15,000 BC!). We then boarded an air-conditioned bus for the tour. First stop was the Conner Toll House. This oldest building on Walden's Ridge (part of the Cumberland Plateau) is now owned by the Chattanooga Regional History Museum and has been upgraded and has some displays and various artifacts in it.

Here are MaryEliza and Nathaniel in the upstairs bedroom at Conner Toll House.
Conner Toll House

Next we went out Taft Highway to Lone Oak and then returned for a drive down Fairmont Road and a discussion of the earliest days of the area when Fairmount Academy was the first school in the area. After talking about the Mountain Opry and Summertown, we went to Signal Mountain Old Towne, Alexian Village (formerly Alexian Inn), Signal Point and then followed the route of the old trolley. After about 2 1/2 hours we returned to our starting point. Our tour guide was James L. Douthat, well known around here for his many books on the local area. The Society is thinking of doing more tours in the future and if they do, I would strongly urge everyone to go and take their kids so they can learn the history of their home town.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Finally, a County Commission forum

I am pleased to announce that there will be a candidate forum with the two County Commission District 2 candidates. This will be held Thursday, July 22 at 7pm at Alexian Village in the "Town Hall" at Alexian (it is around back, you take the entrance off Ohio Ave and follow it to about half-way down on the left by the flag pole... parking is limited, so I urge folks to consider carpooling!) Ironically, this is one of the dates I had originally proposed to the candidates for the forum I tried to put together. I guess their calendars opened up a bit...
This forum is being led by Mr. Dudley Meadows at Alexian. Regrettably, the format he is following will not allow for any input from the audience or any public questions, however he promises to be sure he challenges them appropriately. He did promise a question on public education. I urge everyone to go and listen to these two candidates so you can make an educated decision on this important election.

I will get around to "Chapter 2" (from my last blog" soon...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Minute by minute...

OK, I hope you'll excuse the cute Doobie Brothers reference to introduce a boring but illustrative topic. Generally, the most perfunctory part of any meeting is the reading of the minutes. This is generally a quick "Has everyone read them... any changes..." and you're done. Signal Mountain Town Council, however has turned the "reading of the minutes" into an intermittent ordeal. I realize this my be very "inside baseball", but I think it is an example of the kinds of behind the scenes manipulation of the issues that concerns me.

The most recent example is from last night. As background, you might know from reading the Signal Mountain Mirror that we have frequently spent a fair amount of time with minutes in the past as former English teacher Susan Robertson made assorted grammatical corrections including misplace commas and misspelling and typos. I have found this generally acceptable and even laudable as our minutes should be accurate. Some time ago, Ms. Robertson became concerned about the time involved and we decided to circulate the minutes in advance so that such trivial changes could be made in advance of the meeting. However, over time it became clear to me that more significant changes were being made, changing the facts of events which have occurred and adding "after the fact" justifications for issues she was involved in. Because of this, I asked the town recorder to circulate any "adjusted" minutes with even the most minor changes identified. This has generally been successful, but has occasionally suffered from technical glitches such as this past month. When I received a copy of "adjusted minutes" I noticed that a question I had asked at the last meeting had been changed! This bothered me since I am usually pretty specific in what I want to know and I knew I had specifically planned that particular question.

Now, to some more background. As you probably know, the owners of Signal Crossing recently requested a zoning change for the property behind Signal Crossing. This has been identified on the Land Use Plan as one of the few areas in Signal Mountain for potential commercial development. The application was accompanied by a preliminary plan for the development of this parcel which would have left approximately half of the area as wooded undeveloped land. The was understandable concern by the surrounding property owners about this, but the current and potential owners had been very active in seeking out input and demonstrating their flexibility in their planning to accommodate these homeowners. I had hoped and expected that, going forward we would be able to work on more changes to accommodate the homeowners and mitigate any impacts. Knowing the interest of the current council in expanding commerical development (eg, the earlier enthusiasm for possibly selling town hall property for commercial development), I had assumed this would be passed. This was the reason I supported the $25,000 (negotiated down from $50,000) we spent for the commercial design study by the KCRW design group ( I had tried to make it clear that the pending approval of this project was the reason I supported this expenditure. Frankly, I should have waited, but the council was very anxious to move forward with this. The previous DRC under chairman Greg Goodgame had also requested assistance in developing new guidelines which was another reason for this study. I mention this to refute the various statements and implications by Ms. Robertson that Mr. Goodgame and the DRC had been negligent and non-productive. It is very difficult to ask volunteer citizen boards to develop comprehensive and complex community ordinances and they frequently ask for help. The Planning Commission has worked for over 2 1/2 years in reviewing new subdivision guidelines and are still not finished. They also asked for consultants, but the Council has refused various offers of help on this. As you can see, this whole process is convoluted and difficult to follow, so I hope you're keeping up.

Back to the KCRW study and my question which was changed in the minutes. When KCRW held their public hearing, they presented a plan for discussion which was very similar to the plan presented to the Planning Commission as part of the zoning change required to implement the presented plan. I was frankly surprised by this at the public meeting and several others who were familiar with the earlier proposal commented on the similarity. The primary difference was the addition of a "public square" which would require the town purchasing part of this property, an expense I frankly don't think we can afford. When KCRW presented their report, I asked if they had considered the previous rejection of this plan in their presentation. I realize that technical it was a request for a zoning change, but clearly the zoning change was to implement the plan presented. The answer was that they knew of this, but didn't consider this fact, only taking into account the land use plan. Clearly the implication seemed to be that the Planning Commission had not considered the land use plan (which is not a mandatory plan, only advisory). However, when Ms. Robertson changed the minutes, my question had become one about zoning, not about the similarity of the plans. This made my question frankly seem absurd and pointless. Fortunately, I have learned to closely scrutinize the minutes for such changes and objected to the change and the original correct reflection of reality was restored. I will note that, at the meeting Ms. Robertson apologized for changing my comments, stated that she was trying to clarify the situation and indicated that she assumed I had not understood just what was going on. While I accepted her apology, I felt it was rather condescending and told her that minutes should reflect what actually happened and not what she thought should have happened and how she wished things would have happened. I will not go on with further examples, but they do exist.

Finally, what is the practical issue of all this? Well, I think I will leave that for next time... Chapter 2!