Mayor Richard Venable seeking reelection, challenged by Gerald Sensabaugh in Sullivan County election

J. H. Osborne • Jul 22, 2018 at 12:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — As voters go to the polls for the county general election on August 2, two key races —  mayor and sheriff — share a commonality: longtime Republicans currently in office are being challenged by independents who are newcomers as candidates for elected office.


Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable ran unopposed in the Republican primary to become the GOP candidate on the August 2 ballot. Venable is seeking a second consecutive four-year term (prior to the current term, he was county mayor from 2002-2006). Former NFL player Gerald Sensabaugh filed to run as an independent candidate, a move that got him straight on the ballot without a primary run. Sensabaugh first registered to vote (in Tennessee, at least) in November 2017. He cast his first vote in the Republican primary in May. Venable, a former state representative, has been active in GOP politics since before he was old enough to vote: He campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1964. He’s been a registered voter in Sullivan County since the early 1970s (prior to that he lived and voted in Scott County, Va.) and public records on file with the Sullivan County Election Commission show Venable has been a regular voter and has consistently voted in Republican primaries for as far back as records go.

Sensabaugh has been in the news not only for his mayoral run, but also for his ongoing lawsuit against the Washington County Board of Education and former director of schools in that county. Sensabaugh was hired in January 2017 as David Crockett High School’s head football coach. In October 2017, then-Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton suspended Sensabaugh, citing as reasons that he practiced an injured student and later that he cursed students after a preseason scrimmage. Halliburton later terminated Sensabaugh’s employment.

The Kingsport Times News asked each candidate to answer the same set of questions. Sensabaugh declined.

Q: Why do you identify as a Republican?

Venable: “I worked for Barry Goldwater in the 1964 Presidential election before I was old enough to vote but I believed in his, at the time, revolutionary conservative approach to government. I still hold to those principles today. Those principles being the smallest government possible, doing only those things that people cannot do for themselves with the lowest tax burden we can achieve. I was elected to the Tennessee General Assembly in 1990 where I was the Republican Minority Whip. I retired from the Legislature in 1996 and I have been nominated by the Republican Party and elected twice to the Office of Sullivan County Mayor.”

Q: What experience do you have to perform the job you seek?

Venable: “I have had the opportunity to work as a skilled employee (Electrical Apprentice); as an entry level employee in the transportation industry, rising to an Executive Position (Director of Pricing and Traffic for Mason Dixon); starting and managing my own business for 25 years (1989-2015). I was a member of the 97th-99th Tennessee General Assembly where I was the Minority Republican House Whip. In that position I had to work with the opposition Party to achieve things for the people of Tennessee. That taught me that it takes us all, with compromise, to achieve things in the greater public interest.”

Q: What are the top three issues for Sullivan County in the coming four years and what will you do to address each?

Venable: 1) “The single most important function that Sullivan County must do each year is construct and approve a Budget for the operation of the County government. The Commission cannot and will not budget expense in excess of revenues available, including any unrestricted fund balances. I do not intend to request any tax increase for the coming fiscal year and I don’t think any of our Commissions will do so. Therefore we will be asking each individual office and department to identify cuts in non-essential items. The Commission will approve a balanced budget prior to the state mandated date of August, 31, 2018.”

2) “When I assumed the office of Mayor on September 1, 2014, I was requested to appear before the Tennessee Corrections Institute to explain the Corrections Facility overpopulation and provide an Action Plan to address the issue. A Committee, Chaired by Community Member Wally Boyd, concluded its task with recommendation to the Commission. The Commission has acted to start the process by issuing a Request for Qualifications. Prior to interviews of the responding contractors a smaller Committee will visit other Counties who have gone through the process of dealing with overcrowding.”

3) “Sullivan County, along with our partners Bluff City, Bristol and Kingsport provide operating revenues to Sullivan’s Networks Partnership. The Partnership currently owns over 350 acres of land for development by private business. Sullivan County is also partners with our cities of Bristol and Kingsport and our neighbors of Washington County and Johnson City in the construction of the Aero Space Park at Tri Cities Regional Airport. During the past 14 years the Networks Partnership has been responsible for assisting business and industries in announcing over 6000 jobs. The projects described have the potential for thousands of skilled high paying jobs.”

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