Several candidates in May's Hamilton County primary election have made reference to a larger than usual turnover in local elected offices, and potential turnover in offices, by positing a need for stability.
Nowhere is that turnover, and potential turnover, more pronounced than in the Hamilton County Commission. After August's general election, at least six new members will take their places on what will be for the first time an 11-member panel. In all, seven of the 11 seats are being contested.
Of the incumbents, only Chip Baker in District 2 and Warren Mackey in District 4 have no opposition. Baker will be seeking his second term on the board and Mackey his fifth full term.
In District 7, Lee Helton is running unopposed for the seat county mayoral candidate Sabrena Smedley has held for two terms. He is the first candidate for an open seat with no opposition in the primary and general election since the Rev. Paul McDaniel in the first election of the new mayor/commission form of government in 1978.
In District 3, now-interim state Rep. Greg Martin, R-Hixson, is running unopposed for the seat from which he just resigned. His recent appointment as state representative came after the date at which primary candidates could take their names off the ballot.
He has said he will resign following his election, which will allow the appointment of another interim commissioner before a special election can be held to fill the seat for the remainder of his four-year term.
In District 6, neither Democrat incumbent David Sharpe nor Republican challenger Ruth Jeno have primary opposition, so both their names will appear on the August ballot. The same is true in District 9, where Republican Steve Highlander will be seeking his first full term on the commission and will be challenged by Democrat Steve Caudle.
That leaves five commission seats contested in the primary, and in those contests the Chattanooga Free Press opinion page recommends:
District 1, Randy Fairbanks
District 1 Commissioner Randy Fairbanks claims he's "in my community all the time," a fact at least one of his Republican primary opponents disputes, but if he's not, he certainly seems to be working for it.
In his eight years on the commission, he can report helping with a new track at Soddy-Daisy High School, a new fire hall on Mowbray Mountain, a repaired Bakewell senior center, a paved track in a Soddy-Daisy park, a new Soddy-Daisy Vietnam veterans building, and assistance to the Soddy-Daisy food bank, just to name a few.
Going forward, he wants to see the development of the county's recently purchased McDonald Farm, which he says "will boom Sale Creek" (in District 1), and to keep taxes low on seniors.
Longtime Soddy-Daisy city commissioner and former mayor Gene-o Shipley, who says they don't see Fairbanks "unless it's election time," wants to see replacement or renovation of Soddy-Daisy Middle School and a gymnasium for Daisy Elementary School, items that are not fully in the county's commission's purview.
Meanwhile, business owner and educator Stacy Swallows has definite ideas on how he wants McDonald Farm developed, and says he'd work to see that wastewater and landfill issues are "not kicked down the road."
We think Fairbanks has his eye on the development of McDonald Farm, on individual needs in the district and on the wider county, as he should. With respect to his worthy competitors, we hope his constituents will re-elect him.
In District 5 ...
We don't have a strong feeling about any of the four Democratic contenders to replace one-term Commissioner Katherlyn Geter, who is not seeking re-election. No Republican is on the ballot.
One is Greg Beck, who held the seat for more than 13 years before being beaten by Geter in 2018. Part of his new platform includes shepherding projects to conclusion that were discussed when he was on the commission. Having been on the commission, he is a little more understanding about what the panel can do and what it can't do, which several of his opponents don't seem to grasp.
But Hamilton County Health Department vital records registrar Phylicia Blackmon, retired Marine Nate Doss (who is endorsed by Geter and the Hamilton County Realtors political action committee), and licensed financial adviser Michael Greer all hope a seat on the commission will help them lure a grocery store and other businesses to the district, attract affordable housing and increase parental involvement in schools.
In District 8, Tucker McClendon
Though we supported 23-year-old Tucker McClendon in his bid for a seat on the Hamilton County Board of Education in 2018, we haven't agreed with every decision he's made on the panel. But we always have appreciated his willingness to put forth new ideas (the former Cigna building as a potential new school site, for instance), his ability to collaborate and his forthrightness in communication.
Those attributes make him the better of the two contenders in the Republican primary for the District 8 county commission seat in replacing three-term commissioner Tim Boyd.
McClendon, who has chaired the school board for the last year, said that panel's long-term strategic plan was invaluable during the COVID-19 pandemic and believes the county commission could benefit from such a plan that covers areas such as growth, infrastructure, emergency services and wastewater treatment.
He is opposed by Mike Chauncey, a real estate agent who is vice mayor of the East Ridge City Council. He said he wouldn't change much the county commission has done over the last four years, sees "cleaning up blight" and "holding landlords more accountable" as the biggest issues in the district and says taxpayers "can't keeping throwing money at a failed [school] system."
He also said he was unsure about whether he would continue to serve on the East Ridge council if he were elected to the county commission but "probably" wouldn't. As with Shipley in District 1, we believe taxpayers aren't as well served if one person holds more than one elected office.
We strongly endorse McClendon's bid.
District 10, Dean Moorhouse
In comparing the two candidates for the new District 10, we are convinced Dean Moorhouse is the better choice because he's been there and done that in the community he wants to serve.
For starters, he was a founding board member of the Ooltewah Harrison Education Foundation, president of North Hamilton County United for Responsible Growth, immediate past president of the Harrison Ruritan Club Foundation, immediate past chairman of the Hamilton County Alcohol Beverage board, past president of the Snowhill Elementary PTA and vice president for 12 years of the Ooltewah Youth Association.
Along the way, Moorhouse headed a task force to look at county wastewater solutions and advocated against a change in the county zoning code because of the area's lack of infrastructure.
The retired health care executive wants the fast-growing district to have a new comprehensive growth plan and insists infrastructure be updated as the eastern portion of the county grows.
We harbor no ill feeling against his opponent, Jeff Eversole, a regional manager for Walmart, who as an Erlanger Foundation board member helped raise money for the new children's hospital outpatient center and served thousands of hours as a reserve deputy with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.
He says he wants to "solve the issues," determine a new zoning process for areas like those found in District 10 and grow the county in a sustainable way.
We prefer Moorhouse because of his extensive dedication to the community he seeks to serve.
District 11, Graham in August
Former Commissioner Joe Graham, who served two terms as representative for District 6, is unopposed in his primary bid to grab the Republican slot in the newly formed District 11.
A hard worker in his previous district, he is a supporter of improved schools, is unafraid to ask tough questions and is unabashedly conservative. We expect to support him in August's general election.
Facing him will be one of three Democratic candidates, two of whom are actively campaigning. The third, Molly Blankenship, said earlier this week she was suspending her campaign.
Of the two, we prefer Montrell Besley, a small business owner and director of community engagement at Chattanooga Preparatory School. Genial and open to collaboration, he is an advocate of public school choice and of the county investing in a new Chattanooga Lookouts stadium on former manufacturing land off South Broad Street. He has been endorsed by the Hamilton County Education Association Fund for Children and Public Education, by retiring District 5 Commissioner Katherlyn Geter and current Chattanooga Councilpersons Raquetta Dotley and Isiah Hester.
The other candidate, Sean Nix, like Besley, is a longtime district resident, ran prior campaigns for District 4 Commissioner Warren Mackey and state Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, and is currently vice chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party. He also has thought deeply about the needs of his district and the county and, like Besley, wants the county to invest in a Lookouts stadium that could be a catalyst for needed wider development in District 11.