Commission activity expected to be livelier with all seats up for grabs
By Ian Berry Staff Writer
With all nine county commissioners' and the county mayor's terms ending in 2006, political veterans say there may be some grandstanding and conflict but that the election year also could have a positive effect.
Dalton Roberts, a former Hamilton County executive who served four terms, said commissioners will get along better because they know anything they do to hurt a colleague could haunt them during election season.
"Any controversy you have will happen when somebody can seize upon something popular and ride it hard," Mr. Roberts said.
Stuart James, Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman, said he expects some divisive issues to arise on the commission.
"Sometimes you bring issues you know you're going to lose because you know it's an election year," Mr. James said. In particular, he said he expects some commissioners will try to roll back the property tax increase they approved by a 5-4 vote this year.
But Bobby Wood, chairman of the county's Republican Party, said he doesn't foresee any attempt to roll back the tax increase. Mr. Wood, a 28-year veteran of the Tennessee General Assembly, said an election year is good for candidates because it compels them to talk to constituents and think about issues.
"They know people are examining them, and it causes them to examine themselves," Mr. Wood said.
More than two months before the qualifying deadline, five commissioners already have potential challengers. Between now and the primary elections May 2, commissioners will have about 17 regularly scheduled public meetings to raise issues and argue points.
"Everybody's speeches get a little longer," said Fred Skillern, who is seeking re-election for the District 1 seat.
In addition to the five commissioners facing challengers, Charlotte Vandergriff has announced she will not seek re-election. Mr. Skillern, Richard Casavant and Bill Hullander have no challengers so far. County Mayor Claude Ramsey also is seeking re-election and so far has no opponent.
Charlie Peavyhouse, a Republican activist and former school principal, said the upcoming election means commissioners won't be raising taxes for awhile.
"The rule of thumb is to vote for a tax increase the year after you're elected," Mr. Peavyhouse said. "That gives the public three years to forget about it."
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga political science professor Bob Swansbrough said incumbents at this point want to avoid issues that divide voters, such as the posting of Ten Commandments monuments, a highprofile issue before the 2002 elections. He said incumbents at this stage are in a "defensive crouch," preparing for the attacks from challengers that are sure to come.
"Some of these shells are going to hit and draw blood," Dr. Swansbrough said.
Commission Chairman Larry Henry said he doesn't expect commissioners will shy away from difficult issues. He doesn't anticipate "grandstanding," but he said commissioners may take "a little more aggressive stand on the issues."
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