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Commission hopefuls speak at A.L. Lotts

The six candidates for Knox County Commission seat 5C met Jan. 15 at A.L. Lotts Elementary to participate in a candidate forum.

The forum was moderated by WVLT anchor Alan Williams. Each candidate was given two minutes to make opening remarks, a two-minute limit to answer all questions and one minute for a closing statement. The audience generated questions and all questions asked were directed to each candidate in turn.

Thomas Baer, Richard Briggs, Jim McEvers, Kyle Phillips and John Schoonmaker are running on the Republican ticket while Don Sproles is listed as an Independent.

Baer, a 65-year-old nuclear engineer and owner of a consulting firm, has served 30 years in active and reserve duty for the Navy. After his son, Thomas Holman Baer, was murdered Aug. 21, 1988 on UT痴 campus, he led a grassroots campaign to pass the Crime Victims Bill of Rights amendment to the state Constitution.

Briggs, a 54-year-old heart surgeon, also serves on the Board of Directors for St. Mary痴 Health Systems and has served 34 years of active and reserve duty with the Army. Briggs served as a surgeon in Afghanistan in 2004 and Baghdad in 2005 to 2006, during which time he operated on Bob Woodruff. Briggs knows that some may not consider physicians to be ideal politicians. 的知 not a salesman; I知 not a public speaker; I知 not a businessman who痴 marketing something, but part of my profession is that I知 taught to listen to people and to listen with compassion and then to solve problems, he said.

McEvers, as a 61-year-old retired project manager at Oak Ridge, believes that he has more time to devote to County Commission than his still-employed opponents. 的 was happily retired [but] the more I sat there and I watched, I thought, 典his just isn稚 right. So I decided 典hat痴 it; I致e got to get up off the couch and get moving here, McEvers said.

Phillips ran for seat 5B two years ago and is president of his homeowners association.

He is currently a sales analyst at Whirlpool and believes that his age (he痴 the youngest candidate at age 33) is an advantage. 的 still have my ideals, some would call it almost nave, he said.

Despite his age, Phillips believes he has the necessary experience from working for two Fortune 100 companies and from running his own start-up business.

的 don稚 have the experience in years that these guys have, but I do have experience. I致e done a lot and I致e been successful. I don稚 count [age] as a disadvantage, he added.

Sproles is 54 years old and the co-owner of Lunchbox Restaur-ants. Before joining wife Karen at Lunchbox, Sproles served as a lawyer for 10 years. His platform includes openness, honesty and chivalry. 的 think civility is something we need to look for, civility to each other and with members of the public, he said. He also advocates having meetings later in the evening so that the public can attend 典hat would give us long days, but public service is not about convenience, he added.

During the question/answer session, each candidate pledged to be different than current or previous County Commissioners by encouraging fiscal responsibility and being open and honest with the public. 展e should have a vision of where we池e going as a community, Baer said.

After being asked if they had appointed a family member or friend to any government post, each candidate answered no. 的 strongly believe any position needs to be fulfilled based on merit, Baer said. 展e need to make sure that we do things completely transparently, said Phillips.

Each candidate also had proposals on how to bring about change in government. 鄭s I go door to door, the number one response of you the public is that you池e embarrassed of Knox County government, said Schoonmaker. 的t is an embarrassment that neighboring people are making fun of our government, he added.

Baer, Sproles and Briggs each proposed the initiation of an office of inspector general to ensure that proper procedures for government were in place. McEvers disagreed. 的値l stick my neck out and say we don稚 need another paid government job. There are procedures in place, they just weren稚 followed, he said.

A concern voiced by the audience was how much time each candidate would devote to County Commission business. All of the candidates pledged to dedicate the time that they deemed necessary; Schoon-maker promised at least 20 hours a week. 的t痴 more than just going to County Commission meetings and doing your homework. You致e got to make yourself available to the public as well, said Phillips.

典his is my only job. The only conflict is if my wife wants to go on vacation, but I think we can work that out, McEvers said.

The candidates were also posed a question about what kind of involvement County Commission should have in the school system. Sproles, McEvers and Baer advocated a more responsible budget and more funding for school programs. Schoonmaker wanted to see the inception of neighborhood and community meetings to improve communication between parents, County Commissioners and school board members. Briggs encouraged more real life training that would prepare students to enter the work force.

Phillips advocated completely separating the school board and the County Commission, giving the school board the power to administer their own budget, as is the system in his native Texas. If a change were then sought in the school system, the school board would be directly answerable, he said.

展e致e got an opportunity here to do something different, to bring in good people and to take back our government, said Phillips.

Early voting began Jan. 16 and ends Jan. 31. Election day for the primary is Feb. 5. Sproles, as the only independent, will not appear on the Feb. 5 ballot but will be on the ballot in August.


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