By Ian Berry Staff Writer
A woman who says voters countywide are looking for a change on the Hamilton County Commission will challenge Fred Skillern in the 1st District Republican primary.
Laura Oakley, a professional job recruiter, said she wants to give people a "voice for choice." She said there is interest in county commission races from candidates across the political spectrum.
All nine County Commission seats are up for election this year. Commissioner Bill Hullander is the only candidate without an apparent challenger.
"The people in Hamilton County are beginning to stir," Ms. Oakley said.
Mr. Skillern, who is seeking his second term, said he's built a strong conservative record as a steward of taxpayers' money that speaks for itself.
"There will be some people for me because of my record, and there will be some people against me because of my record," Mr. Skillern said.
Mr. Skillern said as a whole the commission has not done a good job protecting the taxpayers' money, but that he has done the best he could. The commission voted 5-4, with Mr. Skillern opposed, to raise property taxes 26 cents per $100 of assessed value in 2005.
In 2004, Mr. Skillern was part of a 5-4 majority that rejected a proposed 55-cent tax increase.
Ms. Oakley moved to Soddy-Daisy from Los Angeles in 2000 and is active in the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.
She said she couldn't say how she would have voted on those past increases. However, she said the county needs to define excellence and pursue it.
"This is not a PTA, and I know we can't run the county on a bake-sale budget," Ms. Oakley said.
Mr. Skillern said trying to reduce wasteful spending is a never-ending process.
"Government is just like a business," Mr. Skillern, who runs a souvenir business, said. "You're constantly looking at ways to do it better. You're constantly looking at ways to make it more efficient."
Ms. Oakley said she's in the process of talking to constituents and figuring out what the issues are. One issue facing the commission is its relationship with the Hamilton County Schools, she said.
"I believe there needs to be a healing between the commission and the school board," she said.
Mr. Skillern, who has been an outspoken critic of school administration and outgoing superintendent Jesse Register, said he has been a strong supporter of schools over the years. He served on the school board for 20 years as an appointed member.
"I'm not anti-schools," Mr. Skillern said. "But I'm pro schools in my district getting the same funding as schools in other districts."
He said he didn't know whether there is a push across the county for change on the commission.
"We'll see if they want a change or not," Mr. Skillern said. "If they do, I'll be happy to sell souvenirs the rest of my life."
Candidates have until Thursday to qualify. The county primary is May 2, and the county general election is Aug. 3.
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