published Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Democrats hope to gain County Commission District 9

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one in a series of stories about contested races in the August general election.

The east side of the county is one of four battlegrounds where Democrats are hoping to gain on Aug. 7 in the county general election. But a long line of Republican leadership in the district could make that difficult.

Political newcomer, small-business owner and Democrat, Melinda Bone, is seeking to unseat Hamilton County Commissioner Chester Bankston, a Republican who was elected to the District 9 post in 2010 after serving a four-year stint on the county Board of Education.

Democrats are also challenging Republican incumbents in Districts 6 and 8. And there is a partisan contest for District 7's open seat, as well.

Bone says she wants to bring more community spaces to the district, push to increase the number of vocational and technical schools, help arrange a tax break for the county's elderly and be a voice for the people.

Bankston says he intends to keep the same promises he made when he was elected in 2010 -- keep District 9 No. 1, watch the county's wallet on behalf of the taxpayers and help residents solve problems on a day-to-day basis.

The incumbent commissioner says people in District 9, which includes Birchwood, Ooltewah and areas east of the river, should support him because he's retired and can focus on district issues.

"I want to serve my district. I'm retired; I've got time. My district comes first, and the whole county is second," Bankston said.

Much of his days are spent answering phone calls from residents who need their rural roads repaired, calling on the county to clean up the city's Birchwood Landfill -- or other daily issues.

"I got a call today about someone with a neglected swimming pool. It's turned all green and there are mosquitoes growing in it going all over the neighborhood," he said. "I'll call and get someone to go check it out."

Bone said many people like the rural areas of District 9, but there are some city comforts the district needs.

"I want to make sure that in the rural areas our youth are getting what they need in order to survive in today's society," she said. "Since we are in the rural areas, we don't have community centers, the recreation centers that the inner city has to prepare our children and provide a safe place for them while their parents aren't home."

She also wants to extend a property tax break to homeowners 65 and over who are on fixed income. The break would only be on primary residences, she said.

But ultimately, Bone says she just wants to help District 9 progress. If elected, she would be the first woman to represent the district.

"I didn't know that I would be the first. But that is a driving factor for me," she said. "I think we need diversity in our community, and I would bring that diversity."

Bone owns Edible Arrangements and Chicken-w-Bones in Brainerd.

Bankston is a retired electrical contractor.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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