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Candidates stump at Turkey Creek Calhoun’s

One final pre-primary sales pitch from the Farragut-area five.

Republican primary candidates for Knox County Commission, seat 5-C — Thomas Baer, Col. Richard Briggs, Jim McEvers, Kyle Phillips, and John Schoonmaker — gathered among other Knox office-seekers at Calhoun’s Turkey Creek, Tuesday evening, Jan. 29.

Praising fellow candidates, citing the need for compromise, exalting availability, prior familiarity with Knox County Commission and overseeing a budget bigger that the county’s were major points of emphasis.

This non-partisan Farragut Community Alliance Open House two-hour forum, where candidates freely mingled among voters, came a week prior to the Feb. 5 primary.

Among the questions Commis-sion hopefuls addressed:

What qualities and/or beliefs set you apart from the other candidates?

Phillips, 33, is a sales analyst at Whirlpool and former president of Heron’s Point homeowners association. He said:

“I know it’s not the thing you’re supposed to say if you’re in politics, but I think we’ve got a good bunch of candidates.” ... Saying his strong points don’t necessarily separate him from the field, Phillips listed, “integrity, honesty, respect for the system and the people, and I’m committed to smaller government and more fiscal responsibility.”

Baer, 65, is a retired nuclear engineer, owner of a consulting firm and U.S. Navy veteran of 30 years. He said: “I’ve been trained as a leader. You have to be willing to step up and offer compromises occasionally.”

Baer said his utilizing “leadership” and “compromise” helped enact the “Students Right to Know and Safety Act” passed in light of his son, a UT student, being murdered 19 years ago. “I know how to look for the root cause of the problems that we’re facing. … I’ve been doing it on a national and state level for a number of years.”

McEvers, 61, is a retired project manager at ORNL. He said:

“I’m highly qualified with my professional experience. … project experience on multi-million dollar projects. I know how to handle money. ... And I key point is I’m retired, I don’t have to get to an eight-to-five job. … Been to every Commission meeting since September. … I’ve got the freedom, I can study all the material, understand all the issues. And also, I have the time to meet with the citizens. I’d like to set up quarterly meetings with the citizens. … I’ve got the ultimate flexibility.”

Schoonmaker, 53, is regional sales representative for Optovision USA and president of Council of West Knox Homeowners. He said:

“Probably the one key issue is I’ve had the experience over the past 10 years of going downtown to the Knox County Commission and to the Metropolitan Planning Commission and to the Board of Zoning Appeals. Working with neighborhoods and presenting issues that affect them directly. So I have an understanding of how Knox County government works. … I can go to work for you from day one, there’s no training period or break-in period.”

Briggs, 54, is a military and civilian heart surgeon with 34 years service in the U.S. Army. He cited both civilian and military leadership experience “that’s different from any of them.”

As one example, “Commanding combat support hospitals.” Also, Briggs cited his position as Board member of St Mary’s Medical Center that has merged with Baptist Hospital. “I don’t think there’s anyone that’s running for any office that oversees a budget that’s $50[million] to $70 million larger than the county budget.”

Briggs said he made “a promise and a commitment” to accept no business, special interest group or PACs donations or contributions to his candidacy.

The colonel said “vision” also is important, especially in regard to “work force” development, skills-wise, for major companies looking for a home.

Primary winner will face Independent Don Sproles in the General Election culminating with County Election Day Aug. 7. Sproles, 54, is co-owner of Knoxville’s Lunchbox restaurants.

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What issue before Commission do you think is being underplayed or ignored, that upon being elected you would immediately shed light upon?

Phillips: “I think a lot of it’s come to light, yet they still seem to have this attitude ‘we’re going to do what we want anyway,’” specifically referring to “bickering” and “name-calling” during the Jan. 28 Commission meeting. “Right, wrong or otherwise it’s like they get on a witch-hunt of some kind rather than get the facts, solve it, deal with it and move on to the next thing. … We need to do away with that.

“And another thing is the development going on out in the Fifth District out here,” Phillips said, pointing to “better planning and development” that, if in place, would have created Hardin Valley Academy “five years earlier.”

Baer: “We can do much better in the recycling programs to protect the environment,” adding poor air quality in Knox County is a concern because “it stifles any growth and development and keeps businesses from moving here.”

Also, “Education needs some work” to keep Knox County’s “talented” students stimulated and prepared.

McEvers: “I think we need to have more voice from the citizens, and my current impression is certain members of the Commission want to hold back and not allow the citizens to have free input and free exchange.”

With other issues such as school overcrowding, McEvers added, “I think we just need to be a little more rational in how we’re doing some of that.”

Schoonmaker: “What concerns me, are we going to come into summer and realize, hut-oh, we don’t have the money to this or we don’t have the money to do that.” Schoonmaker also made note of a library system he said was under-funded by about $1.4 million. In West Knoxville, another Knox County Sheriff’s Office satellite office may be needed [in adding to inside Farragut Towne Hall].

Briggs suggested having a county inspector general to “make sure the policies and procedures are being followed.” Moreover, “We’re a risk of losing $800,000 federal dollars because the procedures were not followed.”

Should you fail to win in the primary, would you seek to be appointed 5-C Commissioner to temporarily fill the current vacancy?

Phillips said if he were sought out to fill the post, “I would give it serious thought.” Otherwise, “I don’t think I would seek that out because I think truly whoever wins this primary … I think you should chose one of them (primary winner or his General Election opponent, Independent Don Sproles). … I think putting me in there for three or four months, getting up to speed and to the job then leave again, is counterproductive to the people of the Fifth District.”

Baer: “Yes, I’d be willing to do that,” provided “There’s adequate public input to the selection process.”

McEvers: “Yes, I would seek to be an appointee. … One of my main concerns is there’s a budget cycle coming up, and I think that’s an excellent opportunity to understand the budget better, have some input to the budget.”

Schoonmaker said the primary winner should also be the appointment, getting that much more experience before possibly taking office in a few months. Asked about Sproles, the candidate said the Independent forfeited the chance because he didn’t have to win a primary. Any other appointee “wouldn’t do the community justice.”

Briggs agreed with Schoonmaker by favoring the Republican nominee as appointee “because I’m a Republican.”


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