In the years since Catoosa County adopted the chairman-and-commission form of government in 1983, no chairman has been elected twice.
Democratic nominee Lynn Long, who was the first person to win the countywide commission chairman race, hopes to break that record with a win against newcomer Keith Greene, the Republican candidate.
And he added, “I am the only chairman who did not suffer defeat.”
The lifelong Catoosa County resident said that in 1986, “I chose not to run again. I believe if I had, I would have been re-elected. We (he and the four district commissioners) were responsible for a lot of improvements. We did a lot of good.”
That first board of commissioners, following years of sole-commissioner government, included Mr. Long elected at-large and district Commissioners Pat Page, Gary Swanson, Bert Ward and Greg Bentley.
* Party: Republican
* Hometown: Brunswick, Ga.
* Age: 44
* Occupation: Electrical engineer with Roper Industries., retired from U.S. Army after 25 years active duty, including in Iraq 2003-04.
* Personal: Married, three children
* Party: Democratic
* Hometown: Ringgold, Ga.
* Age: 64
* Occupation: Retired real estate broker
* Personal: Married, four children, seven grandchildren
Mr. Greene, who defeated incumbent Catoosa County Commission Chairman Bill Clarke in a primary runoff to win the Republican nomination, believes his hard work and leadership skills will put him in the leader’s role.
The candidate, who retired from the military this summer, said he decided to run for the chairman’s job on the strength of the leadership skills he developed in the military, as well as his desire to lead the county in economic development.
The Republican candidate said he sees a need for the county to diversify its revenue streams.
“More than 60 percent of the county’s revenues come from residents. Less than 2 percent comes from restaurants and industry,” Mr. Greene said. “We definitely need to diversify the revenue structure and get some industry in here, get some higher-paying jobs. We need to move forward with planned economic growth.”
Mr. Long, who served as a Fort Oglethorpe council member from 1978 to 1982, said elected officials are responsible for providing wise financial guidance.
“The citizens are our shareholders and we should do our absolute best to represent their interests,” he said. “The little old lady on $400 a month Social Security should get just as good of government as the bank president.”
While on the original commission, Mr. Long said, he saw the county build the Colonnade, the new library and health department buildings.
“I go out there now and the grass needs cutting,” he said. “I don’t want to criticize the current board too bad. Whoever the board is, they have a real challenge.”
Mr. Green called those issues the “day-to-day” activities of county government and agreed they need to be addressed.
“But the big thing right now is the economy,” he said. “How do we diversify the revenues, and that’s why I say we go after industry.”
hopes from vw
Mr. Long warned that the county should not rely too much on spinoffs from the $1 billion Volkswagen auto assembly plant scheduled to open in Chattanooga in 2010.
“It can help us,” he said. “But car sales are down. Catoosa County doesn’t have 1,500 acres to (recruit industry). We don’t need to give huge tax incentives to VW.”
Mr. Greene said he believes the county is in a strong position to benefit from the VW plant because of its educational system and quality of life, which includes quality recreational facilities and a low crime rate.
“Catoosa County doesn’t have county-owned land to immediately start breaking ground to prepare something for VW,” he said. “But, I met with the German-American Chamber of Commerce meeting in Chickamauga and one of the top things they are looking for is a quality work force and quality of life. They are not looking for county-owned land.”
Catoosa County has a good quality of life, said Mr. Greene, who moved to Ringgold about six years ago.
“It’s hard to quantify but quality of life is how a person feels about where they live,” Mr. Greene said. “It’s schools, the environment. It’s about health and well-being and recreation.”
While the candidates agree that the county has great schools, Mr. Greene has been critical about the dropout rate.
“Unfortunately we have a high dropout rate,” he said. “The rate is 27 percent, not the 33 percent I’ve been citing, after it was adjusted for to add summer (graduates). But that is not necessarily a reflection on the school system, we have to get at what are the underlying issues.”
Mr. Long said he gets defensive when people criticize the Catoosa County school system, even though the County Commission has no role in operating or funding schools.
“I’m real concerned whenever I hear a statement from my opponent about the dropout rate,” he said. “Number one, education starts at home.
“I have two daughters who are teachers in the Catoosa County Schools, and I and my siblings are products of the public schools,” Mr. Long said. “One brother is an M.D., one sister is a retired schoolteacher and one is a retired real estate broker. It’s a pretty good school system.”
Mr. Greene said he would like to see the commission work with the school board to develop approaches to the dropout problem. He said he agreed that the problem starts somewhere besides the classroom. But, it becomes the school district’s problem and by extension, the entire community’s, he said.
FIRE PROTECTION DISPUTE
Both candidates said they know that the newly elected chairman will inherit the dispute over fire protection services. Citing growth, county officials have begun moving forward with creating a countywide fire protection service, moving away from relying wholly on volunteers.
The volunteer firefighters, many of whom have served for 25 years or more, are fighting the county’s plan. Post Volunteer Fire and Rescue services, along with Fort Oglethorpe, in May sued the county when officials tried to cancel the contract for protection of an area outside the city limits. The county paid Post and the city nearly $400,000 a year for services.
Mr. Greene said he wants to hear all sides of the issue before he takes a position, but he said that a consolidated fire department may wind up being the best plan.
Mr. Long said he supports the volunteer firefighters. He said that it is less expensive to use them and they are professional and reliable.
“If it’s not broke, why work on it?” he asked.