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Staff file photo / Labeling shows the entry to the Hamilton County Commission assembly room at the county courthouse in Chattanooga.

Voters have five Hamilton County Commission district primaries to decide this election season, and that means local government representation is up in the air for half of the nearly 370,000 people who live here.

Commission seats up for grabs on May 3 are in Districts 1, 5, 8, 10, and 11 — four contested in the primary only with Republican candidates, and one contested only on the Democratic ballot. With so little bipartisan battle, four of these five districts will be decided in this primary election unless run-offs are needed.

Do your homework: The 2020 census prompted redistricting throughout the county, and we now have two new districts. But in the process of that redraw, every county district has new boundaries, so go online at elect.hamiltontn.gov and scroll down to "click here to find your" district and polling place. Plug in your address to see the what's on both the Republican and Democratic ballots for your area. Then decide who and what is highest on your priority list.

We have some recommendations for county commission districts.

District 1, Stacy Swallows

This North Hamilton County district covering Sale Creek, Soddy-Daisy and the northern tip of Chattanooga offers only Republican candidates, and two of the three are challenging incumbent Randy Fairbanks, who is seeking a third term.

"My passion is helping the people in the community," Fairbanks told the Chattanooga Times Free Press when he announced his candidacy. "My passion is also the older generation. That's why I've always tried to do my research on tax increases and keep them low."

Those are admirable thoughts, but there's a flaw in such thinking. The county's older generation and future growth — and therefore taxes — are tied to what we spend on our children today. And spending for schools and future jobs (beyond just spending on McDonald Farm, a new industrial site in this district) does not appear to be in Fairbanks' wheelhouse.

A certified public accountant, Fairbanks wrote for the Times Free Press Voter Guide: Including interest on bonds for new schools, 67%-68% of the county's budget is for schools and education. "At those levels, it would be hard for the commission to increase the amount of dollars allocated to the Department of Education. I'm hopeful that the new state funding formula will help."

We all hope that, but hope isn't making our falling-down schools safe, improving our school scores or providing teacher pay that's high enough to keep other counties, other states and other professions from luring away our best educators.

And let's talk about McDonald Farm, the 2,170 acres the county last year purchased for $16 million as a new industrial site.

Challengers Gene-o Shipley, with 25 years on the Soddy-Daisy Commission, and Stacy Swallows, a army veteran, retired educator, business leader and and volunteer firefighter, both say that farm's future must be more than just industry. The community doesn't want to see all the recreational value there lost. Both seek there what Swallows called "a balanced approach."

What got our attention, however, — and our endorsement — was Swallows' understanding that education simply cannot continue to be stunted while politicians grab at shiny objects.

"I believe the county is not spending enough on education based on the number of career and technical education programs cancelled and its ranking within the state. Schools are being replaced and/or expanded due to growth, safety or age, though not at a quick-enough pace. I believe funding should be increased in conjunction with effective spending within HCDE (the county department of education)."

District 5, Mike Greer

This is an all-Democrat field of play that includes Ridgeside, Woodmore and parts of Brainerd and Tyner. It is a majority minority district with three men and one woman seeking votes.

They are Mike Greer, Phylicia Blackmon, Nathaniel Doss and former Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Beck, who was defeated four years ago by Katherlyn Geter, D-Ridgeside. Geter is not seeking re-election.

Greer, 47, of Woodmore, is a financial adviser at Stone Bridge Asset Management in Chattanooga and an agent and recruiter with Greer Financial Services Inc. He was raised in District 5 and has lived there for more than three decades, raising his own two daughters there, as well.

"We must invest in all aspects of education — from early childhood to trade schools, public schools to after-school programs, so educators have the resources they need," he told us. "We have to spend more and do more because the needs of our public school students demand more In addition to funding, we need more engagement from the parents, the community and the private sector. We all have a vested interest in public education as it is the machine that produces productive citizens in our community."

In our view, this district has a wealth of candidates, and we hope they all stay engaged.

Commissioner Geter recently endorsed Doss, a veteran and father of 11 children ranging in age from 21 years to 18 months. Beck, 74, continues to be active in the community and still works as a county courts officer. Blackmon is a county health department worker and advocate. All say they have hearts for their community, and we believe them.

This time around, the best leader for District 5 is Greer.

District 8, Tucker McClendon

In this all-Republican race, current Hamilton County Board of Education Chair Tucker McClendon wants to move up the political ladder to represent East Ridge and part of East Brainerd on the Hamilton County Commission.

The seat is open after Republican Tim Boyd announced he would not seek re-election. Another worthy candidate vying for Boyd's seat is Mike Chauncey, 46, who was appointed to the East Ridge Planning Commission in 2017, elected to the East Ridge City Council in 2018 and appointed vice mayor in 2020.

Both men have good political experience, but to fill the big shoes left by Tim Boyd, we believe the nod must go to McClendon.

Though at 27, McClendon is younger, he has demonstrated strong leadership skills, and on the needs of the county as a whole, he seemed to the Times Free Press editorial board to be better versed and equipped for the job.

And there can be no doubt the county commission needs what he offers: Younger energy and ideas "through a lens that is different from any other member. I bring deep understanding of school facilities and the details of the school budget."

That said, McClendon also wrote in his voter survey: "I believe we are spending enough on K-12 education." We'll work on that. We notice he didn't address pre-K.

District 10, Dean Moorhouse

In this new district that sprawls from the extreme northeastern tip of the county down into Collegedale, Georgetown and Ooltewah, two Republicans of Ooltewah stepped forward to run, but no Democrats.

Dean Moorhouse, a retired health care executive, and Jeffrey W. Eversole, a 25-year employee of Walmart and its management, seek votes.

It was been Moorhouse's role in community advocacy to stop an ill-conceived proposal to put a second wastewater treatment plant in the north end of the county near a longtime community — and his later, continuing research of our wastewater problems — that gave him our nod. His study committee produced a report that finally put the county on a better course toward a viable solution.

In 2021, Moorhouse, then-president of the Harrison Ruritan Club Foundation, was nominated by Hamilton County Commission chair Sabrena Smedley as a replacement for Commissioner Chester Bankston, who left before the end of his term. Ultimately, eight applicants from that then-District 9, applied for the seat. Steve Highlander, R-Harrison, was appointed in June and still serves in the redrawn District 9.

Moorhouse is more than prepared to lead District 10.

District 11, Montrell Besley

Finally, another new district carved from the southern end of Downtown Chattanooga, Southside, Alton Park, St. Elmo, Lookout Valley and Lookout Mountain, offers another wide-open seat — one that looks to be possibly the most diverse district.

In the primary, three Democratic candidates qualified: Montrell Besley, Sean Nix and Molly Blankenship. Only Besley and Nix have campaigned, and this week, Blankenship suspended her campaign and endorsed Besley — whom we already had decided to endorse.

Besley, 41, of Alton Park, is a father, small business owner, community advocate and Chattanooga native, currently serving as director of Community Engagement at Chattanooga Preparatory School. He has a master's degree focused in public and community health and has been a city community development coordinator and years-long community advocate.

He pledges to invest in public education and public safety to strengthen the local economy and create a more equitable District 5.

"As it currently stands, our public schools do not have adequate infrastructure or resources to foster a safe, healthy and productive learning environment. I believe it's important to invest in our public schools to retain our hardworking teachers and improve the quality of our educational infrastructure," he told us.

The winner of this district's Democratic primary will face an August election with former county commissioner Joe Graham, a Republican from Lookout Valley.

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