published Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Hamilton County Commission endorsements

Fairbanks to offer more visibility, same fiscal eye for District 1

The winner of the race for the County Commission District 1 seat will be a fiscally conservative Republican. That much is clear since there is no Democrat opposition.

Whether it will be three-term incumbent Fred Skillern, the commission’s chairman, or challenger Randy Fairbanks is up to voters. This page recommends Fairbanks in the May primary to bring more visible and open-minded leadership for the district but the same wary eye on non-discretionary spending that has marked Skillern’s tenure.

Indeed, the challenger, a certified public accountant, said he would “not vote different than the incumbent” on most issues. Where he would differ, he says, is his visibility in schools, Soddy-Daisy commission meetings and community events to seek input on county issues.

The district, Fairbanks says, “is starving for involvement” by its commissioner. And the challenger certainly has been that — involved — throughout his career. He has served as a PTA president, a member of a county health board, a coach and referee in the Soddy-Daisy Kids Club, a TSSAA football official and as a church treasurer, among other things.

A nuanced difference between the two fiscal Republicans might be seen in their proposed treatment of the county’s approximately $100 million rainy-day fund, a sumptuous amount which has allowed the county to have a AAA bond rating.

“Not, in my opinion,” should the rainy-day fund be touched, Skillern said recently.

Fairbanks, who called the fund “very, very important,” said it would be a worthwhile idea to “run the numbers” to learn how much the county would need in the fund in order to keep the AAA rating. Depending on what was learned, money might be freed up for additional school projects, he said.

Their annual discretionary funds spending habits — commissioners get $100,000 a year to spend on projects of their choosing — would be different, too. While Skillern has spent more than $64,000 since July 1, mostly for schools and utilities, his discretionary pocketbook had swelled to more than $425,000 before July 1. Fairbanks said he would not “hold this money” but annually “spend wisely” and mainly on schools.

The incumbent, to be sure, is a skilled backroom politician, both in the intricacies of how the county runs but also in the wielding of power. On several occasions, Skillern has mentioned directly or alluded to his power over the hiring and firing of school superintendents. The challenger, Fairbanks, on the other hand, wants to foster better and more open communication among county commissioners and between the commissioners and the Hamilton County School Board. This page believes that’s the better way to go.

District 2 (Unopposed)

Jim Fields

Jim Fields, the chairman pro tempore of the County Commission, will return to the Hamilton County body for a second term because he has no opposition in either the May Republican primary or the August general election.

The Signal Mountain Republican, a lawyer and chairman of the commission’s legal committee, has voted with the majority on most issues since his election.

He took his place on the commission after defeating 12-year incumbent Richard Casavant in the 2010 Republican primary and airline pilot David Cantrell in the general election. At the time, he criticized Casavant’s votes to increase taxes but called them “a necessary evil.”

District 3 (Unopposed)

Marty Haynes

Marty Haynes, elected to the County Commission in a special election in 2012, also will return to the body for a first full term because he has no opposition in either the May Republican primary or the August general election.

The Hixson Republican ran for a seat on the Hamilton County Board of Education seat in 2010 but was defeated by incumbent Everett Fairchild in a race with four candidates. He then qualified for and won the special election to serve the final two years of the term of Jim Coppinger, who had been appointed county mayor in 2011.

Haynes, an industrial salesman, defeated Mitch McClure, who had been appointed to Coppinger’s seat, in the primary and then out-polled claims representative Mitzi Yates in the general election.

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