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Hammond, Schoonmaker vie for 5A seat

With less than four weeks remaining before early voting begins, candidates for the Knox County Commission District 5A seat are busy getting their message out to the voters.

Vying for the post, which was vacated in mid-term by Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale’s chief of staff Mike Arms, are local radio personality Mike Hammond and political newcomer John Schoonmaker, president of The Council of West Knox County Homeowners, Inc.

Hammond, 51, a former chairman of Knox County’s government efficiency panel, has themed his campaign, “Let’s keep moving.”

“I believe that Knox County is on a track of great progress and we need to keep it moving,” Hammond said. “I think Mike Ragsdale has reinvigorated county government, and I want to work with him and with the other commissioners to make our county better for the people of the 5th district and for everyone who lives here.”

Hammond said what he has seen and heard from 5th district residents has convinced him to run for the seat.

“I’ve never done this before,” Hammond said referring to embarking on his first venture into the political arena. “But, I’m meeting a lot of people, and as you talk with people about how they feel about things and so forth, it’s really, really interesting … the cross section of ideas.”

Hammond said he basically has gone around and talked to people to feel out how the residents of the 5th district feel about the issues they are facing on a daily basis.

“One of the things I hear over and over again is: ‘Why can’t we get along?’ Or, ‘why can’t our officials get along?’ (The residents) really want our officials to be able to sit down and discuss things and not always agree, but they want people to cooperate.”

Hammond said communicatioon skills is one of the things he brings to the political table.

“I know everybody in county government from the schools to the county commission to the state level and even the federal level,” he said. “They know me and I think we can sit down and cooperate and not take things personally, and work to get things done.”

Hammond added that cooperation is the key and that he wants “to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

“I’ve really developed strong relationships with the players in all levels of government,” he said.

He said another issue on his agenda is government efficiency.

“I feel that we can do a better job of saving taxpayers’ dollars and spending taxpayers’ dollars,” he said. “That’s something I wand to work with Mayor Ragsdale and the other commissioners on. What are some of the ways that we can save money?”

Hammond said that while serving on the efficiency panel “one of our recommendations was for the city (Knoxville) and the county, and if it’s appropriate the mayor of Farragut, to appoint a task force or be able to sit down and say: ‘How can we cooperate to save money? How can we look at different things, like data processing, and look at consolidating some things and save money for everybody.’”

Hammond added that both Mayor Ragsdale and newly-elected Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam have both said that they want to look at ways to consolidate some systems and save money for taxpayers.

Hammond said one small thing that could be done would be to mail city and county tax bills in the same envelope.

“If you could take the tax bills, the city and county tax bills, put them in the same envelope, you could save $30,000 a year,” he said. “A small item of saving $30,000, that’s a teacher’s salary.”

New comer John Schoonmaker, a resident of the Tan Rara community in West Knoxville, is a small business owner in the field of sales and marketing of sports optics.

Since 1996, Schoonmaker has been active with The Council of West Knox County Homeowners, Inc., which was established in 1972. As president, Schoonmaker helps the council represent more than 17,500 individual homeowners in the West Knox County area alone.

“My volunteer work as president has allowed me the opportunity to take a hands-on approach and get heavily involved with numerous critical issues that directly impact our West Knoxville community,” Schoonmaker said. “By spearheading efforts to champion the causes of our neighborhoods, I have gained practical insight into the workings of our county commission and the Metropolitan Planning Commission.

“I have worked side-by-side with many concerned citizens in the 5th district and as a result, I feel that I am well qualified to represent their needs on the county commission.”

Schoonmaker added that the reaction to his candidacy for the 5A district seat “has been very positive.”

Schoonmaker highlighted a few of his accomplishments while serving the West Knox homeowners council.

He said, in 1997, Knox County Executive Tommy Schumpert proposed to construct the Knoxville Smokies’ baseball stadium adjacent to three subdivisions located on Gilbert Land and Lovell Road.

“Area residents were justifiably outraged,” he said. At a public hearing concerning the location of the stadium, Schoonmaker said that he, supported by several hundred homeowners, advocated the selection of a better location in Knox County.

He added that residents supported the construction of a new baseball stadium in Knox County, but that the proposed site was out of place in the suburban landscape. As a result, Schumpert abandoned the Lovell Road location. A replacement site in Knox County was never found, and the Smokies moved to Sevier County.

Schoonmaker said that he was also instrumental when a proposal was submitted to Knox County in 2001 to build cellular phone towers in county parks.

“Most residents were unaware that the first tower was designated for Concord Park,” he said. “I just couldn’t imagine that a park, paid for by taxpayers’ money, was the place for a cell tower. Picture yourself taking a quiet walk or sitting, watching the wildlife and listening to the ripple of the water with a cell tower looming over you.”

The idea was abandoned and no cell towers have been erected in county parks.

Schoonmaker said his objectives, as a county commissioner, would be to continue his mission of promoting community involvement in county government affairs.

“Based on my interactions with citizens in the community, I firmly believe they want a deeper understanding of how agencies like the Metropolitan Planning Commission work,” he said. “People are frustrated because they are unable to participate in issues affecting their surroundings.”

Schoonmaker added that there are several issues in Knoxville and Knox County that he would like to address.

“In my professional career, I have had the opportunity to travel throughout the United States,” he said. “I am constantly reminded how fortunate we are to live in Knoxville. Despite these beautiful natural surroundings, we have several issues that could be resolved, which would give visitors coming through Knoxville a positive impression. We have unfinished interstate roads, no professional sports teams, no low cost air carrier and nothing to attract tourists. I would like to change this.”

Schoonmaker said that duplication of process is also an issue that he would like to address. He added that he would propose the limited consolidation of duplicate city and county government agencies.

“Since the new Knoxville/Knox County Animal Shelter is scheduled to open next month,” he said, “let’s use our tax dollars more efficiently by combining the animal control services from the city and county.”

Schoonmaker, as did Hammond, also expressed concern about the Knox County Schools budget. He said almost 50 percent of the Knox County budget is allocated for education, adding that this totals about $325 million for the current school year.

“As a father of two children currently enrolled in Knox County Schools, I have a vested interest about how efficiently money is spent,” he said. “We all know that there is never enough funding for our schools, so we must be vigilant about leveraging these dollars.”

Hammond added that he too had kids that graduated from the Knox County Schools system.

“I have two kids that graduated form Bearden (High School),” Hammond said. “I don’t want to see a conflict again develop between the commission and the school board. I would like to see the school board and the commission work together and put together a plan for the districts and take a look at where do we want to be in five years.

“I don’t want to run the schools, that’s not the job of the commission, but since the commission handles the purse strings, obviously getting the commission involved in some of this planning might be a healthy thing.”

Hammond added that he had a strong working relationship with both Brian Hornback of the 5th school district and Chuck James with the 6th school district.

“Let’s face it, our kids are 100 percent of our future and we need to make sure that we’re providing that educational opportunity for them,” he said.

Early voting in Knox County begins Wednesday, Jan. 21. The Knox County Election Commission has not designated early voting sites at this time. The Knox County primary is scheduled for Feb. 10, in conjunction with the Tennessee Presidential Primary.

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