By Ian Berry Staff Writer
The race between Hamilton County Commissioner Lou Miller and Democratic primary challenger John Allen Brooks has been among the most heated commission races so far, but both candidates say issues are what will decide the race.
Mrs. Miller, who was appointed to the seat in 2004 after the death of her husband, Ben Miller, and later was elected, said Mr. Brooks doesn't appear to have any issues other than education.
"It's like running against a phantom candidate," Mrs. Miller said.
Mr. Brooks said his key issues are interconnected: education and jobs. He criticized Mrs. Miller for being among a group of commissioners that refused to meet with the county school board.
"I believe the County Commission and the school board are going to have to work together," Mr. Brooks said.
The two candidates have different views on job creation. Mr. Brooks said he wants to focus on bringing more jobs downtown and that the county has put too much focus on the Enterprise South industrial park.
"It's a great and wonderful piece of property, and we've spent how many millions of dollars, and how many jobs do we have?" Mr. Brooks said. "None."
But Mrs. Miller said the industrial park, designated a megasite by the Tennessee Valley Authority, is a key element in the county's future.
"We used to be a big manufacturing town," Mrs. Miller said. "And I see Enterprise South as a beginning to bring more manufacturing jobs in here."
The two also have differences of opinions on education. Mrs. Miller pointed out she voted against the 26 cent property tax increase last year, while Mr. Brooks said the commission made the right decision. Mr. Brooks said he didn't think another increase was needed and that he would look for ways to save money in the budget first.
Mrs. Miller said Mr. Brooks' focus on education has left him without other issues. She said Mr. Brooks, an attorney, is not well-versed enough to be a commissioner.
"He's for education," Mrs. Miller said. "Aren't we all for education?"
She said officials already know the key problem with education funding - the state's Basic Education Program funding formula. She said the matter is in the hands of local state legislators, who have vowed to address the issue.
Mr. Brooks also said the BEP formula must be changed. He raised another possible way to change the formula: by filing a lawsuit.
"The BEP was brought about by court action, and I think it could be modified that way," he said.
In addition to those issues, the two campaigns have at times raised more personal issues. Mrs. Miller has pointed out her lifelong residency in the district, and some of her supporters last month said Mr. Brooks wasn't living at the Alabama Avenue residence he listed as his address.
"Growing up in the inner city and working in the inner city gives you insight into people, and he doesn't have that," Mrs. Miller said.
Mr. Brooks said his family has owned the house for a couple of years and is renovating it, and that he has the utility bills to prove he lives there now. Although he grew up on a dairy farm in Ooltewah, he said he has lived at several different locations in the district, including on Missionary Ridge and at Moccasin Bend.
"I was lucky to say I grew up on a farm," Mr. Brooks said. "But I'm proud to say I chose to live in the 6th District."
Mr. Brooks also has brought up cronyism on the commission, including the fact that Mrs. Miller's son has a contract with the county. EAP Care Inc., headed by Ben Miller III, provides assistance for employees on alcohol abuse and mental health issues.
Mrs. Miller pointed out she abstained from those votes and that her son performed that role for the county well before she joined the commission.
"He's trying to grab for something, but he doesn't know what he's grabbing for," Mrs. Miller said.
District 6 weaves through areas of Red Bank, St. Elmo, Missionary Ridge and East Lake. The primary is May 2, and there is no Republican opposition.
E-mail Ian Berry at firstname.lastname@example.org