OUR PICKS FOR CITY COUNCIL: Fiscal conservatives fit the bill in District 1, District 2

OUR PICKS FOR CITY COUNCIL: Fiscal conservatives fit the bill in District 1, District 2

February 13th, 2013 in Opinion Free Press

DISTRICT 1: CHIP HENDERSON

Four candidates are vying to fill the seat vacated when current District 1 Chattanooga City Council member Deborah Scott decided not to run for re-election. District 1 - which includes much of the western portion of Chattanooga, including Lookout Valley, Raccoon Mountain and the area of the city between Red Bank and Signal Mountain - is the most expansive district in the city. It is fair to say that it also is the most fiscally conservative and small government oriented, as well.

There are two candidates in the four-man race who represent those values extremely well: Chip Henderson and Jim Folkner.

In their interviews with the Times Free Press editorial pages, both candidates displayed a commitment to prioritize the city's budget, work against tax increases and fill Scott's watchdog role on the council.

Folkner, a leader in the effort to recall Mayor Ron Littlefield, is clearly concerned about public safety and pledges to address the police department's salary and staff needs. In his valuable role as a grass-roots activist and gadfly, Folkner has seen the need for greater transparency and accountability in city government. His worthy ideas to make city records more readily available to the public would force city officials to be more responsible, while encouraging citizen participation.

While Folkner would be a terrific addition to the city council, the Free Press editorial page endorses Chip Henderson. What sets Henderson apart is his vision for reducing the city's burdensome litany of fees and permits on businesses and individuals, as well as his ideas for trimming the fat in City Hall.

Henderson's dedication to getting the city out of businesses that the private sector does more competently and economically has been missing from city government in Chattanooga. His goal of selling off city-owned boondoggles -- like insolvent golf courses -- and his vision for combining city services to make them more efficient are exactly the types of solutions Chattanooga needs.

Henderson, who owns a home construction business, is not new to public service. He served a four-year stint on the school board in the 1990s.

Longtime educator Tom McCullough - who claims that city property taxes are not too high and admits that he has not looked at the budget - and retired TVA employee Pat Hagan - who says he has no real platform, other than making sure that chickens are allowed in the city - are also running.

DISTRICT 2: PRISCILLA SIMMONS

Voters in District 2 - an area that encompasses the North Shore, Stuart Heights and Northgate - have the opportunity to choose between three excellent candidates to replace retiring Councilwoman Sally Robinson. In a district that has been represented for far too long by a council member who views Chattanoogans as little more than sources of revenue and has used her position to benefit her family and friends, the prospect of having a council member who puts District 2 residents first will be a welcome change.

Businessman Roger Tuder and former Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department Director Jerry Mitchell have gotten the lion's share of the attention during the campaign. This is partially a function of their vigorous, well-funded campaigns. But it's also a result of the wearisome mud-slinging perpetrated by the candidates' grass-roots supporters.

While District 2 residents have been focused on Tuder and Mitchell, voters may have overlooked the best person for the seat: Priscilla Simmons.

Simmons, who formerly managed the city's Finance Department, knows the city budget better than anyone. She is committed to making sure every dollar is spent wisely by cutting wasteful spending and putting the savings toward infrastructure repair.

While her opponents simply pledge not to increase taxes, Simmons names several situations where poor decisions by city leaders can be cleaned up to save taxpayers' tens of millions of dollars. Simmons' budgeting experience and watchful eye would come in handy on the council.

City debt tripled from 2000 to 2012 and Simmons was the only candidate who voiced concern about how Chattanooga will respond to the deluge of bond payments that are coming due. She was also the only candidate with a low-cost solution for making better use of recreation centers.

If Simmons wins on March 5, she would be wise to adopt ideas championed by her opponents. Specifically, Tuder pointed out that the city's business and licensing regulations are too onerous and often do little, if anything, to benefit Chattanoogans. A review of the rules that small business owners face should be a goal of the new council.

Mitchell mentioned several cases in which building codes were not uniformly enforced in Chattanooga. Allowing a different set of rules for different people based on the whims of codes enforcers is inappropriate and unfair.

As a result of her commitment to protecting taxpayers' money, streamlining government and ensuring that necessary services are appropriately funded, Priscilla Simmons has earned the Free Press' endorsement over her two very qualified opponents.