By Jim Young
The Art Circle Public Library held a "meet the candidates" forum for those running for two city council positions in next Tuesday's election.
Three of the 5 candidates appeared at the program and just over 25 members of the public attended the forum that gave the public a chance to get their questions answered by the candidates. Candidate Jesse Kerley and incumbent councilman Boyd Wyatt had previous commitments according to ACPL director Suzy Randleman who welcomed those who attended and introduced the candidates who attended, including Ted Meadows, James Perry and Pete Souza.
Topics touched on during the questions and answer sessions included city amenities such as the recently approved dog park, an aerobic pool, downtown improvements, garbage collection and recycling, city funding for schools and allowing a time for the public to speak at council meetings.
The three candidates had a chance to introduce themselves.
Meadows said he had first moved to Crossville in 1972 and has worked at what he called, "the three best jobs in Crossville." Meadows was first the manager of the Vindale/Crossland Homes plant that built mobile homes. He then went to Avery Dennision until it closed and then worked away from Crossville, but retired and returned. He then spent a time as the Crossville city manager. Meadows said he was running because he felt the city could spend its money better. He wants to give more thought and direction to where the city is going.
James Perry said he had retired from the military after rising to the rank of Command Sergeant Major. After the military, Perry started out in working to get disabled veterans employed. He was later promoted to manager of the local Crossville career center and, in 2005, became a regional manager over employment services for 12 counties supervising a staff of 92 employees.
Perry stressed, "I have the management experience." He added he felt the city's primary goal was to provide a safe environment and a way to make a living for its citizens. He said he would encourage industrial, retail and tourism jobs.
Perry concluded, "We need to make some tough decisions, and I'm the person that can do it."
Pete Souza talked about his service in the U.S. Marine Corp and that he became the youngest Major in the corps at the time by working hard at being a problem solver. Souza said the city is facing the same thing here. He explained that while he had been criticized for being negative, he had heard from other citizens that also had concerns about problems he hoped to solve.
Souza said his main goal was "to represent the people." He added that if elected he would serve 4 years and he did not want another term after that.
The audience was invited to ask questions of the candidates and those questions included the men's thoughts on city amenities such as an aerobic exercise water pool and the downtown redevelopment/improvement project.
All three candidates agreed that amenities need to be provided for city taxpayers, but with the current financial conditions and obligations, some projects may need to be delayed until things improve. Meadows said that Crossville is a "lifestyle community" and needs to continue to attract tourists and retirees. Meadows added that tourists bring some $90 million into the county and much of that money is spent in Crossville.
Meadows explained he felt the return on investment needed to be looked at on such projects and if they enhanced the value of the community.
Perry agreed that amenities were needed but, before he approved spending money, he would look at such projects by whether they were worth raising taxes or borrowing money to pay for. Perry said "sometimes we have to wait." Perry stressed he would look at ways to adjust the budget to do different things and approve the wise use of tax dollars.
Souza said he would consider anything that was for people inside the city limits. He added the city didn't need to borrow funds, but needed to change what they are doing.
Concerning the downtown improvement project, Souza said how to handle it was a complex question but he felt that the water and sewer infrastructure needs to be done. He said the question in his mind is "if now is the time to do it? We may need to wait," he concluded.
All three agreed on the need to improve the downtown infrastructure. Perry said the water pressure is needed for fire protection and he considers that a basic city service. Meadows also said storm water was something that needed to be looked at.
A question about the city's debt led to discussion of ways to pay off some of the city's current borrowing.
Perry said that he felt the city needed to manage revenue and take extra money to pay down some of the debt. He wanted to see a 5 percent reduction across the board in the city's buget, an amount he felt wouldn't hurt any basic services.
Souza said that first, the city should look at their revenue and he would like to see 15 percent of the city's income going toward paying down the debt. He said he didn't like to see all the various budget amendments on the council's agenda each month, feeling instead that the city should set a budget and live within it.
Meadows explained that he did not have a problem with debt, but he did have a problem with some of the things the city had used the debt for. He explained that while the bank building and new city hall was a good investment, he felt the price paid for the property was too high by some $600,00 to $700,000.
The candidates were asked about their vision for the future how the city would look at the end of their four year term, if elected.
Meadows said he sees the city out of the recession and able to enhance the community with sidewalks, and possibly a pool. Meadows said, "We need to make the community more attractive." He added that he hoped to see the city finances in better order and more prepared for the future.
Perry told the audience he would like to have a well planned and managed community. He added that a well managed community was better able to attract industry and he would like to see one-third more jobs locally. Perry said he was concerned about the brain drain of local high school graduates that go to college and then can't come home to work.
"We need to bring the best and the brightest back to Crossville from college," said Perry. "We can increase wages through competition and high tech jobs.
Souza agreed with Perry, adding that he had four daughters that had to leave Crossville to further their careers. Souza said that manufacturing jobs are decreasing but high tech is the future.
"We would be glad to have any industry, but we need to focus on high tech," explained Souza.
One question that also sparked discussion was the opportunity for citizens to have a place to address the council during the regular meeting.
Meadows asserted that such a place should be on the agenda, especially since it was supposed to be based on the city charter.
Perry said that the meetings handle the citizens' business and they should have the opportunity to address the council with their concerns. Perry added he hoped if he was elected that citizens would call him any time to talk to him about those concerns.
Souza agreed that a public comment item should be on the agenda and, in addition, he felt council work sessions should be held at a time when working citizens could attend.
A question on garbage collection and recycling garnered agreement from all three men that there should be no additional charge to city residents for garbage collection and that curbside recycling should be offered if it is financially feasible.
Council candidates also responded favorably to a question abut the city providing additional financial help to the schools. The discussion included references to the 1/2 cent of sales tax that was added by referendum a number of years ago for construction of schools. Inside the city limits, the city receives an additional 1/4 cent instead of it being directed to schools. The city has previously said that money would be used for roads and other infrastructure around schools.
Also discussed was the use of liquor sales fees that are used to pay for School Resource Officers, but the amount collected is more than the amount used. All three candidates felt the city could do more for the schools and education.