The battle for the District 4 County Commission seat between incumbent Warren Mackey and challengers Pam Ladd and Kirkland Robinson includes two candidates whose peers already have elected them to higher office. Mackey is president-elect of the Tennessee County Commissioners Association, and Ladd was elected chairwoman of the Chattanooga City Council during part of her one term there.
Ladd, who lost her bid for City Council re-election to Ken Smith a year ago, deserves a return to elective office by winning the nod in the Democratic primary. Since no Republicans qualified for the seat, the primary winner is virtually guaranteed a seat on the commission.
Mackey, a two-term commissioner, considers himself “a conservative person” and is a solid proponent for jobs and a “business friendly environment” for those jobs, but Ladd offers a wider view that includes concern not only for the district’s jobs situation but also for its students’ low reading scores, the need for a larger contribution from the county to Erlanger hospital, consideration of combining city and county services, the distribution of funds for schools, and its high crime rate.
“There’s a lot of challenges,” Ladd says. “I want to be helping people connect the dots.”
Robinson, who grew up in the district and once was general services administrator under County Executive Dalton Roberts, believes the district suffers from a lack of growth, grocery stores, “fair return on taxes” and a middle school in Alton Park.
“I know we can do better,” he says.
We hope he’ll stay involved.
Mackey, who taught 38 years at Chattanooga State Community College and sat on various community boards, is no neophyte at his job and is a realist who understands that “everybody [doesn’t] need to go to college” and that a renewed military draft might provide young people with experience and training.
Ladd, though, is one of only three women running for a seat on the now-all male commission. In this case, her wider perspective, her passion for service and her gender give her a narrow edge over her challengers.
As a county commissioner, Greg Beck says he is a manager and a “guardian” for District 5 whose job is to “enhance progress” for his constituents. However, Isiah Hester, an associate minister at New Horizon Church and his opponent in the May Democrat primary, says the incumbent is unknown in his district and “not connected.”
While we like Hester’s involvement in the after-school pilot program Saving Our Boys and his idea that Chattanooga’s many churches each adopt a public school classroom for the purposes of assistance, we believe Beck’s experience, his acknowledgement the county always must get “the best bang for the buck” and his understanding “it takes five votes to do anything” make him the best selection of the two.
Beck, a court officer at the Hamilton County Courthouse, says the job of a county commissioner is to fund schools, manage county funds and be a spokesperson for the county and for his individual district.
And while he says county commissioners “don’t start programs” and that what he wants for his district — jobs, community safety and economic and community development — never changes, we appreciate that he has looked toward some needed improvements for the district. Among those, he said, are the wider development of the Bonny Oaks Drive corridor (Lee Highway to Highway 58), safewalk systems to several district schools and 2,000 more jobs.
Hester says Beck “ran on better schools” but maintains the district still has three of the top five lowest-performing schools. And while he says the city’s about to “lose a generation” to crime and lack of education, he only advocates “new ideas if it makes sense for all.”
Beck, for his part, says he doesn’t “have a formula for making parents do better” but is willing to “see what happens” with Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke’s Violence Reduction Initiative. After all, he says, “I’ve seen a lot of initiatives.”