Washington County Mayor's Race: Grandy, Reeves talk Jonesborough school, 'Good ol' Boys' perception

Zach Vance • Jul 25, 2018 at 11:48 PM

Next Thursday, Washington County voters will choose either Republican nominee Joe Grandy or independent James Reeves to be their next mayor.

The duo sat down Wednesday with the Johnson City Press’ Community Advisory Board to talk about their campaigns and answer questions.

Grandy is a two-term Washington County commissioner and chairman of the Budget Committee. A self-described “political junkie,” Reeves owns and operates an auto mechanic shop in downtown Johnson City and has run for Congress and county mayor before.

Here is what they had to say. Some of their answers were shortened for space and clarity.

Q: How do we get past the Board of Education’s stalemate with the Jonesborough school project?

Grandy: “Clearly and statutorily, it is a Board of Education’s decision (about) what happens in Jonesborough. Too much meddling either by commissioners or the mayor has been tested in court and found to be against statute.

“I have a preference. I mean one of the things, from my perspective, is we need to get on with a project in Jonesborough because we're continuing to educate third-graders in an environment that's proven to be unsatisfactory. So far, we've not made any change to that. I would like to see some resolution come to the Jonesborough project so that we are not putting these third graders at risk for future failure. There is funding for a project in Jonesborough that would correct it.

“So how do you get past it? Well, this election I think will potentially drive it. We'll have new school board members and my wish is that they coalesce around a solution in Jonesborough that falls within the money we have to spend there and that they originally asked for.”

Reeves: “What I would like to see — and I've at least got three (school board members) onboard and the fourth one is wavering —- is take the Boones Creek school and make it into the (county) middle school. I've done the drive. It's 3.2 miles from the current middle school in Boones Creek and 3.4 miles from the current school in Jonesborough. It is almost exactly between the two current middle schools.

“Then you renovate your two middle schools (for elementary schools), spend a little bit of money. And then they say, 'Well, what about the rest of our money?' I say we can finally give the teachers a real raise, and that has excited them. Because what I've followed for the last 12 years, there's not been a real raise for Washington County teachers. And when that happens, also more money comes into the Johnson City school system because every dollar you spend here, 96 cents goes into the school system in Johnson City. So it helps a broader group than just Boones Creek and Jonesborough.”

What’s the most interesting thing you have learned on the campaign trail?

Grandy: “From my personal perspective, to me, it's been a very mean-spirited campaign. The merits of the people involved and the issues maybe have not been the focus … it's surprising.”

Reeves: “Polling places. I realize a lot of people got moved (during redistricting), but I didn't realize how many. I didn't think it was a problem in the city until I started talking to people. I've got a guy who could literally throw a stone at Princeton Arts, but he's got to go all the way to Lake Ridge school to vote.

What needs to be done to bring an economic driver, such as a state park or similar project, to Washington County?

Grandy: “The state parks are really a function of the governor. So while you need your support from our state representatives and senator, I think the relationship with the governor is where you get that thing started (and) identifying a piece of land. Typically you see (state parks) on some sort of feature. Roan Mountain (State Park) is on a mountain, Warriors' Path (State Park) is on a lake. So identifying a place in Washington County to put a state park, I don't think would be difficult because we do have some unique features.

“One of the things I've tried to do with this governor's race is get out and meet all the candidates and make a point that they know who I am, and I know something about their character. (A state park) isn't the only example where the governor makes a difference.”

Reeves: “At the end of the day, you've got to have a good relationship with your current representatives in your own county. And of course at the center of the county because those are the people that are going to put in a good word for you over in Nashville.

“In that particular essence, yes (regional cooperation would help). I'm not a huge fan of regionalism, per say. I'm really anti-regionalism, but when you want to pull in a big project like that you've got to tie in (regionalism). Like the aerospace park thing at the airport … it's something you've got to look at.”

Do you think there is truth to the idea that Washington County government is being run by a 'Good Ol' Boys' club? And if so, what would you do to challenge the culture and try to change it?

Grandy: “I would certainly say that is the perception historically. I don't think that's reality at all today. Not that county government needs to have a greater degree of transparency, but I think that the way it operates today is transparent and the business is conducted above board and upfront. Just like some claims to the contrary, they're proven to be untrue.”

Reeves: “The school board finally did it and I will, too. We'll get cameras in the (county commission) meetings.

“There is (a good ol' boys club), and it's got worse. Joe might not think so … What we're dealing with now, what has come in since Dan Eldridge is what I call a 'Millionaire Club Cabal.' It's people with a lot of money, (like) bankers, investment people, construction people, etc., and they want to make sure their business continues and they want to do it through government.

“As a mayor, you need to be open. I plan to have at least one day in Johnson City down at the auto shop. If the Press wants to come by and say, 'Hey what do you think about this, Reeves?' I'm going to give you an honest answer. It may not be the best answer, may not be what you want to hear or the people want to hear and if it gets me run out in four years, it gets me run out in four years.

“If you live in the city or county, you're paying taxes to pay my salary for goodness sake. I work for you. I have no interest in making something out the back door. I just don't and I think that's how government should be run.”

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