By Ian Berry Staff Writer
Laura Oakley , who is challenging Hamilton County Commissioner Fred Skillern in the District 1 Republican primary, said she wants to be more accessible and visible to the public.
"I have an invisible commissioner in my district right now," Ms. Oakley said at a forum earlier this week. "We don't see him."
Mr. Skillern, who did not attend the forum, is seeking his second full term in the Soddy-Daisy-area commission district after 20 years as an appointed school board member.
He said he's in the district 99 percent of the time, eats out for lunch in the district four days a week and had 10 people visit his office on Thursday alone. He said the Tuesday forum, which was attended by Ms. Oakley and 11 other commission candidates, was the same night as a campaign rally attended by Sheriff John Cupp and General Sessions Judge Bob Moon, among others.
"As she was saying that, I was having an event with 300 people," Mr. Skillern said. "If that's invisible, then I guess I'm invisible."
Mr. Skillern, owner of Dixie Souvenirs, is pitted against Ms. Oakley, a professional job recruiter, in the May 2 Republican primary. There is no Democratic opposition.
Mr. Skillern said he is proud of his record as a school board member and commissioner, which he said includes several school projects and a record of protecting taxpayers' money.
Ms. Oakley said schools need to be funded appropriately and that public officials can't just point to the Basic Education Program funding formula as the source of school funding problems. She said she holds Mr. Skillern responsible.
"We can't just wait for state legislators to change their minds and change the BEP," she said. "We've got to step forward."
Ms. Oakley said that without seeing the entire budget, she couldn't say whether last year's 26 cent tax increase, 16 cents of which was for the school sys- tem, was warranted. But she said it was clear that teachers needed a raise and some new schools needed to be built.
Mr. Skillern, who voted against the tax increase, said "all of the code words" indicate she wants an increase.
Ms. Oakley said other priorities in her campaign include sustainable economic development and animal welfare, which could become more of an issue as mad cow disease and the bird flu spread.
She said the district is changing and there are about 30 new subdivisions. She said she wants the public to know its commissioner, and that as commissioner she would attend more public events.
Mr. Skillern said he's lived in the district for 69 years, and most of the people he meets don't know Ms. Oakley.
Ms. Oakley, who moved to the Soddy-Daisy area from Los Angeles in 2000, heads the Soddy-Daisy committee with the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. Skillern said he doesn't attend events such as Tuesday's forum because they are outside the district. He said he would attend a forum if it is held in the district.
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