By Ian Berry Staff Writer
The race to represent Signal Mountain on the Hamilton County Commission is revolving around the new high school being built there and the tax increase that made it possible, both Republican candidates agree.
Ken Holloway, a co-founder of the Mountain Opry, is challenging Commissioner Richard Casavant. The winner of the county's May 2 Republican primary will face Joe Dumas, an independent, in the Aug. 3 general election.
Dr. Casavant was among the five commissioners who approved a 26 cent tax increase last year that will, among other things, allow for construction of a Signal Mountain high school.
As Mr. Holloway pointed out, Dr. Casavant voted for a 55 cent increase in 2004 that was rejected by the commission.
Mr. Holloway said the school is unnecessary. Parents will continue to send their children to Baylor and other private schools, and he predicted the district will have to bus students in from elsewhere to fill it.
"We'll have a nice school," Mr. Holloway said. "Maybe those who can't afford their property taxes can go over and live in the school."
Mr. Holloway said the driving force behind the new school was nearby "land barons" who will take advantage of the accompanying infrastructure for residential development.
Dr. Casavant called that assertion "absurd." Dr. Casavant said people are excited about the school and that he wouldn't have pushed for it if he thought there would be a problem filling it.
He said given the $18,000 price tag in tuition at Baylor, plus another couple thousand dollars for trips and other items, many parents will turn to the public school once it's available.
"Whatever the perception is of people on the mountain, they're not that wealthy, by and large," Dr. Casavant said.
Mr. Holloway said his experiences as a farmer and with the Opry lend themselves more to those people. Dr. Casavant is dean of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's College of Business.
"His experience is not with the working man," Mr. Holloway said. "It's with the college-level people, the upper crust."
Dr. Casavant's response was that "being anti-intellectual is not a way to get our kids into the future," and he defended his background.
"I grew up with a lot of working people near downtown Chattanooga, and I'm very proud of where I came from and where I am now," Dr. Casavant said.
He said that if Mr. Holloway was going to run on decreased spending, he needed to cite examples of what could be cut.
Mr. Holloway cited the county's contribution to UTC's Finley Stadium and Allied Arts as things the county shouldn't be paying for. He said Allied Arts will "take some pieces of scrap iron, weld it together, and it's art." He also mentioned an instance in which Allied Arts sent someone up to a nearby school to "show how African natives beat the drums," a demonstration that he said could have been done on a video.
Dr. Casavant said Allied Arts is an excellent program and that the initiative along with the county's contribution to the stadium constitute less than a quarter cent in taxes. "His list needs to grow," he said.
Dr. Casavant said that Mr. Holloway accepted several thousands dollars in county taxpayers' money to fix a furnace at the Mountain Opry.
Mr. Holloway said he applied for the $4,400 in hotel/motel tax money several years ago and didn't have a problem taking it because it was from existing funds and was going to be spent on something.
Mr. Holloway said he has not appeared at any campaign forums or speaking engagements because he didn't want to owe certain groups favors once elected. He said he is running his campaign almost entirely with his own money, and that financially he was David taking on Goliath.
District 2 also includes Lookout Mountain and parts of North Chattanooga.
E-mail Ian Berry at firstname.lastname@example.org