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Johnson City Commission candidates answer Chamber of Commerce questionnaire

Zach Vance • Updated Oct 5, 2018 at 6:58 PM

The Johnson City Chamber of Commerce released the results of its biennial Johnson City Commission candidate survey on Friday. 

Incumbent Vice Mayor Jenny Brock, Johnson City Board of Education member John Hunter, perennial candidate William “Bud” Hill Jr., East Tennessee State University student David Adams and Gray resident Jeff Clark will all be vying for two open seats on the five-member governing body. 

The candidates were each asked the same 11 questions, and their responses were limited to 50 words or less. Those responses were due at noon Oct. 1. Early voting will begin Oct. 17 and last through Nov. 1. Election Day will be Nov. 6. 

•  What are your three key reasons for seeking a seat on the City Commission?

David Adams: We must embrace technology as a vehicle for long-term growth. We must practice discernment in funding that growth. The growth we foster must be for the benefit of both working-class residents and businesses. With these three principles put to practice, we will build the Johnson City of tomorrow.

Jenny Brock: It has been a privilege to serve on the commission the past five years during a time of significant community improvement and growth. I am seeking a second term to lead our city in continued economic development and tourism, excellence in education/workforce development and infrastructure/quality of life investments.

Jeff Clark: The reason I am seeking this seat is that I want to improve the city’s infrastructure, encourage jobs that enable upward mobility, and be a voice for those without the power to be heard.

William “Bud” Hill: a) To provide a more common sense approach to complex problems that may arise. b) To give a voice to those who think and feel that the city cares more about corporate than its hard-working citizens. c) To be a positive role model to those young and old.

John Hunter: Raising a family, I will work to ensure Johnson City remains a place our children will desire to live for years to come. As an employer, I want to support a culture that welcomes people and business alike. I will be advocating for fiscally responsible decisions for efficient governmental operation.

•  How would you contribute to the work of the Board of Commissioners?

Adams: When I imagine the Johnson City of 2028, I envision a connected city with a robust technology business sector – high paying, downturn-resistant jobs that leverage our university and unique population. As a commissioner, I will make appointments and offer insight to my fellow commissioners to materialize this vision.

Brock: I will be knowledgeable on issues, collaborate and show leadership for the commission to set goals, develop policy and provide funding for city services, education and infrastructure investments. I will stay focused on big-picture issues/growth and hold the city manager accountable for operations of the city.

Clark: With the other commissioners, I would continue to encourage Johnson City’s growth and enrichment through programs already in place and yet to be.

Hill: My contribution to the works (of) this commission, would be to show that we as a city, regardless of who we are, counts.

Hunter: I am a firm believer in public service, having served on multiple boards, including the planning commission and school board, I am prepared. As a business leader, I have executive experience a board entrusted with a quarter of a billion-dollar budget and nearly 1,000 employees should expect.

•  How will you work to achieve more collaboration between the city, county, and town?

Adams: Tensions are rising between the city, county, and towns. Between the fallout of the sports complex, complaints about school budget inequities, the aged debate over annexations, etc, I worry we may be approaching a low point in local cooperation. My philosophy: Leadership is changing. Let’s push the reset button.

Brock: Johnson City, Jonesborough and Washington County are a winning trifecta to attract economic development and growth. I will work vigorously to bring collaborative planning/projects among the three entities and the broader region where we will all prosper. Building strong relationships based on mutual respect is the cornerstone for effective work.

Clark: I would work towards that goal by increasing the avenues of communication and cooperation and by following through on our commitments to both the communities and the citizens that live within them. 

Hill: I would work to achieve an understanding, that we as a team, could and would be able to provide, more and better services at a lower cost to enhance our environment, i.e. safer roads, higher wages, better health care.

Hunter: Collaboration inherently demands communication to build trustworthy relationships. As I have done in other capacities, I will work with our neighbors to identify areas of commonality that we should work together on. We have new leadership in all three entities, and I look forward to healthy and productive dialogue.

•  How will you work to achieve more collaboration in the region?

Adams: Competing with our neighbors is mutually destructive behavior. My wife works in Kingsport. We shop at the Pinnacle. Although the Tri-Cities are separate entities, the 21st century distinctions are blurred. My philosophy: We must reduce collisions between our individual business sectors, cultural events, and long-term plans.

Brock: Our cities and counties working together are much more capable of addressing far-reaching challenges such as health care, economic development, workforce development, economic robustness and quality of life attractiveness than a smaller city alone. I will work aggressively to bring the political side of regionalism to the table.

Clark: I will achieve more collaboration by proposing projects that would benefit all and creating an official Neighboring Communities Liaison Office.

Hill: I would call on local leaders and citizens of our region, to explore opportunities to show how exceptional our region is compared to others.

Hunter: Collaboration with others in our region is crucial. We benefit from each other’s successes. The impact of economic regionalism is undeniable. We must include all stakeholders at the proverbial table to unite around some key goals that are attainable in order to build a trust for one another and regionalism.

•  What should the city do to foster existing business expansion and recruit new business?

Adams: The future of Johnson City is technology. Through its various arms, Johnson City must be proactive rather than reactive about embracing tomorrow’s businesses. By transitioning its recruitment efforts from traditional business sectors to technology-oriented businesses, Johnson City can ensure long-term growth and prosperity for stakeholders, big and small.

Brock: For expansion/new growth, the community and governments must make sure the following exist: a work-ready workforce, great education, essential infrastructure such as high-speed broadband, critical transportation, a friendly political environment and a great quality of life. We must build a reputation as a great place for business success.

Clark: By improving transportation infrastructure, such as new and more bus lines, the city would be able to increase the availability of consumers and give them opportunities to make more money, which would be spent at businesses currently here and at new ones that would be bolstered by new consumers.

Hill: I would offer incentives to expand infrastructure repairs to existing businesses, and to offer additional incentives for future businesses to add and train workers for their workforce needs.

Hunter: We must analyze and continually work on ensuring we are an attractive and appealing place to locate and remain. That analysis should include implementation of city services, variety in recreational & cultural options, creative/innovative recruitment/retainment offerings for businesses, & continued strong support for education will guarantee success here.

•  Please describe your understanding of the role of the City Commissioner?

Adams: Aside from the school board, city commissioners are the only publicly elected arm of Johnson City’s government. As such, they serve as the de facto bridge between community and bureaucracy. The role of a city commissioner is to keep the city’s direction in step with the will of the community.

Brock: The city commission is the legislative body of city governance. A commission’s primary role is carried out through setting policy, developing local ordinances/code, establishing tax rates and providing funding for city services. The commission provides vision, long-range strategic planning, budgetary oversight and overall accountability for governance.

Clark: To set policies and laws to be carried out by the city manager and to approve the yearly budget.

Hill: My understanding as a commissioner, is to be a servant of the people that elected me, to find ways to provide a safe place for all to live and work, to establish and maintain clean and safe drinking water for homes and businesses.

Hunter: Our charter defines commissioners as members of the governing board with a multitude of specific responsibilities and authorities. No commissioner has any greater power or authority than the other. The power resides in the collective body of the commission as a whole.

•  Please describe your understanding of the role of a City Manager?

Adams: Ideally, the city manager should serve as the facilitator of regular city business. Additionally, city managers do not face elections and traditionally serve long terms – because of this, another de facto role of a city manager is to serve as steady counsel to a frequently changing Board of Commissioners. 

Brock: The city manager reports to the commission. All city staff are supervised by the city manager who is responsible for the day to day operation of city services. The city manager is a trained professional and works with commissioners in strategic planning and to set and manage the annual budget.

Clark: To enforce commission-approved policy and run the necessary bureaucracy of a healthy city government.

Hill: To manage the city with commission input to insure equal asset to all citizens, regardless of status in the community.

Hunter: The city charter clearly outlines that the manager, much like a CEO of any business, is responsible for managing daily operations and implementation of the commission’s policy-driven vision for the city.

•  What improvements would you seek to bring to Johnson City’s government?

Adams: I would like to see greater discretion in spending habits and greater public involvement. Whether true or not, the current commission has earned the ire of both public and press for a perceived ‘fast and loose’ policy in big-ticket price negotiations and a perceived tone deafness to community input.

Brock: I propose the city enter a quality self-examination process to evaluate the effectiveness of all city services. The outcome will be process improvements, cost efficiencies, examination of policy/ordinance relevance and excellent customer service. Additionally, we must plan our desired future and focus funding, partnerships and services to make it happen.

Clark: Renewing dedication to citizens, where we insure that they are heard and a part of the process. The simplest solutions are allowing a greater time for feedback on policy decisions and by looking into technologies like livestreaming to increase communication to a younger demographic, fostering enthusiasm for local government.

Hill: I would seek more minority input, more seniors’ input and a more better policing method by engaging neighborhoods to know thy neighbors.

Hunter: Strategic planning including succession planning and staff development to ensure continuity in quality of services provided. I believe we need to continue developing a proactive approach to all facets of city government. Promote transparency in planning and implementation

•  What circumstances must be in place for you to raise property taxes?

Adams: When all other avenues have been exhausted. When the city no longer pays 210 percent-plus market value for property while selling property for a loss. When the city is at genuine risk of a service level reduction. It’s important to never say never, but there is discretionary fat to trim first.

Brock: Commissioners serve as trustees overseeing the well-being of the city. City services require sufficient funding to meet citizen expectations and promote growth. An adequate tax base and natural growth fund essential services. Only if natural growth declines and services are negatively impacted should adjustments to the tax base be considered.

Clark: If, after a look into what programs do not benefit the city, and reducing them, we still don’t have the revenue available to create the programs that would encourage growth, I would look into the benefits of starting a tiered property tax so that all pay their fair share.

Hill: As in the past, I said that I would never raise taxes, property or whatever. Still the same.

Hunter: By law, the city is required to approve balanced budgets. Tax increases must be considered only after all other reasonable options are exhausted. Economic growth is imperative to keeping taxes low and we must focus on investments that will produce expansion of the tax base, not the tax rate.

•  What will you do to continue the collaboration between the Chamber and the Commission?

Adams: The Chamber of Commerce is, in a sense, the collective voice of the local private sector. When it comes to matters that affect businesses or long-term city outlook, a good Commission lends its ear to the Chamber. We are all on the Johnson City team.

Brock: The Chamber is an essential partner in promoting/selling the city and region. We invest in the Chamber to carry out this critical work through funding and support. I will continue the excellent relationship I have with the Chamber and CVB and ensure proper funding is in place for maximum effectiveness.

Clark: Continue allowing input and recommendations from all in the local business community on policies they would like to see and that impact them.

Hill: I would give the Chamber of Commerce a more definitive direction of what Johnson City could be like in the 21st century and let them do what they do best, promote and provide.

Hunter: Our three cities’ chambers have become a united voice for regionalism. I will promote and encourage cooperation regionally among our elected bodies furthering the cause of economic success for our citizens. As a commissioner, I will also support the chambers in their endeavors to boost and develop our business community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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