Dr. Ralph Van Brocklin, a two-term city commissioner and former city school board member, said he plans to run as an independent in the 14th Commission District.
As of Jan. 31, no incumbent has picked up a petition to run for the 14th District, leaving Republican Jim Wheeler, Republican Jeannie Nanney and independent David Drayer as other possible contenders for that seat.
Van Brocklin said he planned to gather signatures for his petition this past weekend, and the only reason that might prevent him from running would be time.
“If you’re going to hold both positions, you need to be committed to doing both well and putting in the appropriate amount of time for each. That can be an issue at times, (but) generally speaking, I don’t think that will be a great problem,” Van Brocklin, who also works full-time as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, said.
One of the factors motivating Van Brocklin to run for County Commission is he wants to be a voice for municipal taxpayers, a voice he believes is currently lacking.
“We saw in the decision that was made to fund the construction of schools for nonmunicipal residents of Washington County that there was no voice on the part of the commissioners who sat on the County Commission that questioned at all how reasonable that approach was,” Van Brocklin said.
But, providing a voice for the municipal taxpayer doesn’t mean he won’t have rural residents’ interests in mind as well.
“I think that I have demonstrated an interest and a commitment to the nonmunicipal county residents, as well as my municipal constituents, as a member of the City Commission,” Van Brocklin noted.
“I attended the tours of the Boones Creek schools with the county commissioners and spoke to the need for the new schools at the public hearing. And, I voted against the annexations that did not really provide value to the residents in Gray, and I was a voice for the de-annexation of that same area when the residents requested it."
Shoring up the fiscal “disparities” between Washington County and Johnson City schools is another priority for Van Brocklin.
“(Washington County) Mayor (Dan) Eldridge is correct, we have some very definite disparities between how our students within the municipality are educated and how the students in the county are educated. One of the reasons for that is the County Commission over the years has not funded education adequately,” the former Johnson City mayor said.
Although every additional dollar appropriated to county schools will have to be matched to the city, Van Brocklin said “is that really a bad thing?”
“So that discrepancy between the city and county will remain. The percentage will go down a little bit but the dollar amount will remain the same. But there is a responsibility to bring the level of funding up for those county students and I feel that would be something that is very important to me to do that,” Van Brocklin said.
Having conversations with the state legislature about cooperative agreements between municipalities and counties is something Van Brocklin believes has to be entertained.
“One of those is how you share the monies that are being portioned to education, capital and operational. This all or none approach (when it comes to sharing) probably at some point has to be solved,” he said.
A regular participant in county government, Van Brocklin is one of the few city faces seen at regular County Commission meetings. He estimates he’s attended more than 50 percent of county meetings in the seven years he’s served on the City Commission.
“I think that I can help be that bridge between the two commissions that I believe Commissioner (Joe) Wise and Mayor (David) Tomita were while they were on there,” Van Brocklin said.
While uncommon, Tomita served on both commissions for a period of time before tendering his resignation in December 2016. Wise resigned from the county body prior to being sworn in as a city commissioner.
As far as conflicting interests, based upon what he’s seen, Van Brocklin doesn’t believe he will be recusing himself from many votes.
“Where the problem comes in is if a lawsuit is brought by one against the other. Those will be the areas that will be difficult. Mayor Tomita and Commissioner Wise both found a way to work around that, and in all honesty, I think that I can, as well,” he said.
Eds. Note: A previous version of this story said Commissioner Joe Wise served on both county and city commissioners prior to resigning his county seat. Wise resigned before being sworn in as a Johnson City commissioner.