By Randall Higgins Cleveland Bureau
CLEVELAND, Tenn. ? The two Republican candidates for Bradley County Mayor are focusing on the county?s growth, both past and future, and proposing how they will manage it.
Incumbent D. Gary Davis is seeking a third term. Challenger Johnny Mull, energy director for Bradley County Schools, comes from a well-known political family but is seeking his first elected office.
Whoever wins the GOP primary on May 2 will be the mayor. There is no Democratic candidate in the Nov. 7 general election.
Mr. Davis said he is campaigning on the accomplishments of the past few years.
"Especially in the area of education, all the buildings and programs we have done," Mr. Davis said. "In 1998 we were really behind. So we have been working really hard, and spending and borrowing lots of money on that."
Mr. Mull said building new schools to met the state?s Basic Education Program requirements has been costly.
"Everything we have done has been on bonds. So now we are in debt to about $83 million," Mr. Mull said. "I?m concerned about how much we are putting on credit. I want us to be fiscally responsible. McMinn County has met BEP like we have and they don?t have a debt."
Mr. Davis said the county had to play catch-up after years of neglect. The school system needed more bricks and mortar, he said.
"You can?t have it both ways," he said.
But the campaigns are about more than schools, both men said.
"Good schools lend themselves to other issues too, like recruiting industry. It is about servant leadership," Mr. Mull said.
He said he was asked to run by "several people" because "we feel we don?t have any longterm vision. There?s never a long-term plan, or if there is, we don?t stick to it."
Mr. Davis pointed to the county?s noneducation accomplishments the past eight years, including a new county justice center and juvenile center to serve the public for years to come. And he said there are city-county accomplishments, such as the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway and the current fire contract.
His goal is to manage the demands of growth with the revenue generated by growth, Mr. Davis said.
"I really think if we plan, and we are talking two or three years out, we can build another elementary school," Mr. Davis said. "Unless prices go up more than they should, based on what it cost to build Waterville Elementary, we will be able to do that." "As long as we are growing, addressing needs and planning ahead, we should be able to do that within our growth," he said. "As you grow, you continue to have needs. But when you say you are growing, that means your revenue is growing. We just have to live within that growth. We are having increases, but they are not tax increases. They are growth increases."
Mr. Mull said the county should be planning for five years out "and decide how we are going to get there." Mr. Mull said.
"The Chamber (of Commerce) does a good job, but is the county doing enough to recruit industry?" he said. "That has a domino effect. If we don?t have the jobs, people can?t work."
Mr. Davis said the next-highest priority after education is transportation, especially roads. "Counties don?t build roads, but we have to start planning and pushing the state to get some things done," he said.
The county mayor is one of five members of the local Metropolitan Planning Organization, which recently adopted a long-range plan for the city and urban county areas.
"With the MPO, in time I think we will catch up with some of these projects," Mr. Davis said. The multi-county Rural Transportation Planning Organization, which includes surrounding Southeast Tennessee counties, has Exit 20 at Interstate 75 as one of its top priorities, too, Mr. Davis said.
"So we are getting our plans and priorities in place. And in the meantime, we are waiting for the Dalton Pike and Georgetown Road projects to get started," Mr. Davis said.
Mr. Mull said the county should actively push for additional transportation projects.
"We don?t need to be passive about this," Mr. Mull said. "We need to say to the legislators, ?Here?s what we need.?" "It used to be (that) our roads were crowded after work. Now they are heavily congested most of the time," he said. "Our road system is not on life support now, but it could be in 10 years."
Mr. Davis said campaigning during budget-writing season has drawbacks. He was a county commissioner before he was elected to the mayor?s office.
"It is tough to do the job and campaign. But I am as dedicated to the job as I have ever been," he said. "I hope as I continue to do the job, that?s what the people want."
Mr. Mull noted that his grandfather was county trustee and his mother is leaving the Circuit Court Clerk?s office after many years of service.
Being from a well-known political family "is a good thing to stand on," Mr. Mull said. But he also noted that many new and young Bradley County voters don?t know his family?s record of community service.
E-mail Randall Higgins at firstname.lastname@example.org