With early voting starting today for the primary election, the Macon County League of Women Voters hosted a candidate forumlast Thursday with five of the six primary candidates discussing local issues to better inform voters on the candidates vying for the three open commissioner posts.
Candidates running for the positions are in District I (Highlands): incumbent Jimmy Tate-R and Steve Higdon; District II incumbent Kevin Corbin-R and Vic Drummond- R; District III incumbent Bobby Kuppers-D and Rick Snyder- D. Higdon did not participate in the forum.
Macon County League of Women Voters member Susan Ervin opened the meeting by thanking the incumbents and their challengers for participating in the forum. Candidates were invited to spend three minutes answering two questions and then were allowed to give closing remarks and discuss an issue of their choice. Ervin served as the moderator for the event.
The first question Ervin asked during the forum was in regards to the economic development opportunities within the county.
“In the future, the economy of Macon County may look rather different than it did before the decline. Please tell us two or three of your best ideas for economic development in Macon County,” said Ervin.
Snyder: “I believe that the county needs to explore every opportunity available to make the county small businesses friendly. Perhaps we can offer some low interest financing for companies willing to locate here. The key would be that any financing must include guarantees of hiring local people for their employees. Small businesses are the true backbone of the economy and Macon County needs to make sure that we are doing everything possible to attract small businesses.”
Drummond: “Politicians always talk about directly creating jobs, but, I would like to say that they can’t really bring jobs to an area. But what they can do is promote policies that attract businesses. Some of these policies, for example, might be having low tax rates, developing the area so that you have good schools, having good housing available, having community housing, just having things that attract people to come to the area. I am not in favor of tax incentives to bring companies to an area. I do not think it is the position of government to promote things that way. I think that Macon County needs to be realistic about this economy and the future economy and the limited opportunities we have beyond small businesses ... I don’t think in the current economy we have many jobs either small or large coming into our county.”
Tate: “I think what we can do as county commissioners to promote our county is be ready for it when it does get here, and we can hold what we have. I feel like our EDC is doing great things to promote our county and as liaison to the EDC, I am very excited about what Mr. Jenkins is doing for Macon County and I am trying to follow that closely, promoting what our EDC does and they are doing great. What I mean by being ready is how important it is that our educational facilities are ready. Education and the hospital are the first two things businesses want to know about when they are looking to expand in a location. Both of those thing need to be in top notch order to outshine the surrounding areas ... what I mean by hold is that we need to keep what we have. We need to keep all of the jobs that we already have, and we need to do that by trying to keep our taxes as low as possible.”
Corbin: “To be able to talk about what we can do here for the economy, first I need to talk about what caused it. What caused it was a lot of things that happened in Washington and on Wall Street, it didn’t happen on Main Street in Franklin. It has hit particularly hard here because our economy has been traditionally based in large part on tourism, and the second home and building market. I have a brother who works in that market and he has a fraction of the work that he had 10 years ago, so what can we do as a government? Well, one thing about speaking fourth out of five, a lot of things have already been said and I agree with all that has been said. For one, government needs to stay out of the way. We don’t need to create any unneeded regulations that prevent businesses from happening. We need to assist the EDC in their efforts. The other commissioners on the board can tell you that as chairman, earlier this year I called a planning meeting and we identified promoting and do what we can to encourage growth and jobs a top priority. We have to keep the infrastructure strong, and with that I am talking about schools. We are just completing the last of a long range plan that I had the privilege of being a part of, which started about 14 years ago. We had older schools, some schools were 50- plus years old. When we finish the new Iotla school, we are going to have a top notch school system, low maintenance, and continue the low tax rates. I believe in keeping tax rates low; the budget we have this year is 15 percent less than the budget we had in 2007-2008.”
Kuppers: “Well, step one is to keep what you have; you keep what you have by networking, infrastructure, by being an entrepreneurial community. We appreciate the businesses that we have and we intend for them to stay and expand here if they can. Second, work force training. I would love to take credit for what I am about to say; I would love to say that I had the vision that people had on the board, some of those people are in this room today, when they invested in Southwestern Community College in Franklin. I am telling you that that investment will keep us alive. It will keep us going because that is where you train the workforce. We went to Whitley not too long ago and the first thing they said was, well we want to hire people, but we can’t find anyone who does what we do. My first response to them was, have you talked to Southwestern Community College, because I bet you they will train people in about anything you want. So I think, we should not underestimate what we have. This board, which I am very proud to be a part of, has done a tremendous job of looking downstream and trying to stay in front of things and have made tough decisions, knowing they will pay off down the line. The third thing is infrastructure, and by infrastructure I want to talk about things like schools. We can’t let our schools slip ... Our airport and the county’s recreation are two other boards that we need to focus on. Keeping those aspects of our infrastructure strong is as important as going out and shaking hands when you are trying to get companies to move here.”
The second question Ervin asked the candidates was their approach to the future of planning in the county.
“Land use regulation and planning has been made rather controversial lately, with some believing that planning promotes good development and others believing that planning hampers development with short term profits being thrown up against long term benefits. What specifically do you think needs to be done in reference to planning and development in the upcoming term?” asked Ervin.
Tate: “I am a sixth generation Macon County resident and I am very proud of that ... with that in my mind, me personally, as a county commissioner and a resident of this county, I give each of you my word that I will always be a good steward for this county ... it has to be a balance between being a good steward of our lands and providing fair and common sense regulations for our residents.”
Corbin: “We need to review the ordinances we already have, let’s see where we are and find out what ordinances we have and work on those first. We need to review the subdivision ordinance and work closer on a few things in that. We need to move forward. Planning is not a bad word, planning doesn’t mean to pass a bunch of ordinances, planning means planning. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
Kuppers: “I think there is a misconception among some folks that there is a correlation between planning and regulations. Planning is what you do to determine whether or not you need regulations; planning is not regulations ... tough economic times demand planning. It is more important to plan in tough economic times, than when you have all the money need. When you have all the money you need, no one asks the hard questions ... the Macon County Comprehensive Plan was developed by the people of Macon County, and if there is anything that shows what the people of this county wants, it’s the Comprehensive Plan. Should I be fortunate to get a second term, my fellow commissioners are going to be so tired of hearing the following words, they won't know to do. How does that fit into the Comprehensive Plan? Show me that in the Comprehensive Plan. So many people put so much time into developing that, and we need to take it off the shelf and use it.”
Drummond: “I believe economic development is the life blood of any community and without it, I believe the community will disappear ... I can state emphatically that I am against planning that is done by any government entity that is going to tell me where I can live, what kind of residence I can live in ... I can also state emphatically that I am against planning that will infringe on my rights to use my properties as I see fit. As far as regulations go, I am against regulations simply for regulations sake. Just because a government body has the power to regulate or propose regulations is not a justification to do it. If there is a specific and well defined problem that can be solved with regulations, then do it. If that is not the case, then I would not promote regulations.”
Snyder: “We need to take another look at the steep slope division ordinances which are making it hard for property owners and building in Macon County.”
After giving closing remarks on the candidates stances on the budget, education, law enforcement and other topics, voters were given the opportunity to meet with the candidates and ask them additional questions.