published Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Three men vying Aug. 2 for Hamilton County Mayor position

Poll
Who do you support for Hamilton County mayor?

REGISTER TO VOTE

Today is the last day to register to vote in the Aug. 2 county general and state primary elections.

EARLY VOTING

Voters may cast ballots from July 13 to July 28 at the following locations in Hamilton County:

• Brainerd Recreation Center, 1010 N. Moore Road, and Eastwood Church, 4300 Ooltewah-Ringgold Road; Northgate Mall, entrance at former Shanes Rib Shack/Pizza Hut next to Belk; Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

• Hamilton County Election Commission, 700 River Terminal Road, Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

Democrat Richard "Rick" Wilson and independent Richard Ford are challenging interim County Mayor Jim Coppinger for his second-floor office in the Hamilton County Courthouse.

On Aug. 2, county voters will decide which man will lead the county for the remaining two years of former Mayor Claude Ramsey's term. Ramsey left in January 2011 to become deputy governor of Tennessee.

County commissioners appointed Coppinger, a former Chattanooga fire chief who, at the time, was District 3 commissioner, to the interim mayor's post.

Coppinger, 57, has collected more than $200,000 in campaign donations since last fall. Ford hasn't taken any donations, and Wilson is running a self-financed campaign.

"We'll be spending six figures on TV," Coppinger said. "We're doing meet and greets, and we'll continue to be out in the community."

Coppinger continues to push the importance of job creation and education.

Wilson, 67, who's been a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga since 1971, has met with community groups and appeared on the radio.

"I believe we need a citizen-based voluntary collaborative effort to reduce duplicative services among county government and all the cities," Wilson said. Those could include sewers, roads, parks, fire, police or other suggestions from residents, he said.

Ford, 58, said he's been invited to attend one women's group meeting and will meet with more groups before the general election.

"I want to eliminate the nepotism and favoritism and replace it with honor and integrity," Ford said.

He questioned Coppinger's decision to include the county mayor's office in a 3 percent across-the-board raise for county workers. The mayor makes $151,006 a year.

"Jim Coppinger was already overpaid," Ford said. "If I was to get in there by some miracle, I will still give half, if not two-thirds, to charity. I'm not going in there just for the money. I'm going to get in there to represent all the people in Hamilton County."

Coppinger rebutted the criticism, saying "it's obviously politically motivated."

"The mayor's office historically has received the same percentage of compensation as other employees," he said.

Coppinger said he had to make tough decisions last year to place the county in better fiscal shape this year. Last year, the county laid off 26 workers when cutting about $13 million from the budget after the expiration of a sales tax agreement with the city. The long-standing agreement spelled out how the city and the county broke down their financial responsibilities for agencies jointly funded by the pair.

Wilson said he would have been prepared to accept a salary cut before he let any employee go.

"I would first attempt temporary furloughs, and I would be the first employee to seek a reduction in my salary so that I shared the burden that was carried by my employees," he said.

Contact staff writer Ansley Haman at ahaman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6481.

about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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