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Ragsdale, Hall face off at Convention Center debate

Knox County Mayor Michael Mike Ragsdale and mayoral candidate Steve Hall faced off in a debate Thursday, March 30, at the Knoxville Convention Center.

Hall, a Knoxville city councilman, is challenging Ragsdale in the May 2 Republican primary.

Hall told the crowded auditorium at the beginning he was not a public speaker, and his style of response in comparison to Ragsdale proved that statement correct. His style, however, did not diminish the sincerity of his convictions.

For more than an hour, Hall and Ragsdale fielded questions from the audience and questions posed by moderator David Keim, business editor for the News Sentinel. Despite Keims pejorative attempts at humor, the debate flowed smoothly. Topics ranged from Knox County schools to taxes.

Hall said he is a better choice of candidate than Ragsdale because of his connection to the people.

I started a business from nothing, then turned it into something, he said. Ive had those sleepless nights worrying about payroll and how to make ends meet. I can relate to the common people who have done the same.

During the rebuttal, Rags-dale cited his business experience as a reason that he is a good choice for the county mayor position. He stated his unification efforts when he took office between the county commission and the school board helped bring the county into a better situation.

He also didnt miss an opportunity to take a jab at Hall.

Mr. Hall refers to the common people in our community, Ragsdale said. I dont think we have any common people in Knox County. I think all our residents are special in different ways.

On the topic of education, the moderator asked Ragsdale what would be required to make the Knox County schools better.

Its important that we have an involved community, Ragsdale said. We want to have students reading at grade level by the second grade. Studies have shown that if you dont have students reading on grade level by that time, then they stay behind for the rest of their educational career.

Ragsdale said there needs to be an increase in teacher pay and there needs to be a continued effort by county officials and residents to improve the schools.

Hall said during his rebuttal that he agreed with Ragsdale about the good quality of Knox County schools and the continued need for improvement.

We have got to find a way to improve the science and math skills of students if theyre going to be able to compete in a global economy, Hall said. Weve also got to find a way to make it easier for people who want to teach to become teachers.

Ragsdale, during rebuttal, said programs are in place to help people become teachers.

Both candidates said they would oppose giving the school district the ability to be its own taxing entity with the ability to levy taxes.

Schools in other states, such as Texas, have the ability to levy their own taxes in order to provide funds for the school district. These funds go straight to the school districts and are not doled out through a state general fund or a county commission.

The debate eventually moved to the topic of the 2004 Wheel Tax, a cause championed by Ragsdale in lieu of a property tax increase.

Ive never said I oppose the Wheel Tax, Hall said. I said I oppose the way it was initiated.

Hall said he sees the necessity of taxes, but he also advocated better fiscal responsibility on the part of the county government with what it does with the money.

No one likes taxes, Ragsdale said during his rebuttal. You can put me on that list. But a county has got to be able to balance its budget.

He said the county has made efficient use of the Wheel Tax money, citing the building of several new schools that are in progress and the purchase of 200 acres for more park space.

At the close of the debate, Ragsdale said he wants to continue his efforts to improve the community.

Hall said he plans to be open to the needs of the community.

Im fair, he said. Im open-minded. Ill listen to everybody.


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