A majority of incumbents won't be returning to Sullivan Commission

J. H. Osborne • May 3, 2018 at 8:44 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — When the 24-member Sullivan County Commission meets for the first time after September 1, it is certain to consist of a majority of new members. At least 15 seats will change hands, based on the incumbents who either didn’t run for re-election or were defeated in the Republican primary on Tuesday.

The turnover could be greater, depending on the results of the county general election, where those who survived the GOP primary will in multiple districts face Democratic nominees and/or independent candidates.

In all, eight current commissioners chose not to seek re-election this year.

Five of them simply did not file to run for any office this year. They are: Bryan Boyd (District 2); Dennis Houser (District 4); Andy Hare (District 5); Eddie Williams (District 8); and Joe Herron (District 11).

Three more commissioners ran for higher office instead of re-election to their commission seats. They are: Cheryl Russell (District 2); Matthew Johnson (District 6); and Bobby Russell (District 9), who won the race for circuit court clerk.

In the Republican Party primary on Tuesday, seven commissioners lost their bids for re-election: Bob Neal (District 3); Mack Harr (District 4), Sherry Grubb (District 5); Mark Bowery (District 6); Baxter Hood (District 7); Kit McGlothlin (District 9); and Bill Kilgore (District 10).

Together, that makes 15 commissioners who won’t be back when the new four-year term begins Sept. 1.

The number could reach as high as 21, depending on the outcome of the county general election in August. In that election, seven current commissioners who won in the GOP primary will, along with any other GOP nominees in their districts, face Democratic nominees or indepedent candidates. They are: Mark Vance (District 2); Terry Harkleroad (District 6); Angie Stanley (District 7); Darlene Calton (District 8); and John Gardner and Pat Shull (District 11). Both Gardener and Shull could survive in August because theirs is a three-seat district, and there are three GOP nominees and one independent candidate on the ballot.

In March of last year, the Sullivan County Commission voted 14-9 with one absent to approve issuing up to $140 million in bond debt to fund a school facilities plan supported by all three local school systems; the governing bodies of both Bristol, Tenn., and Kingsport; Eastman Chemical Co.; and hundreds of other local businesses as represented by the chambers of commerce for both Bristol and Kingsport.

After Tuesday’s unofficial election results came in, some county government watchers noted what they said was a correlation between incumbents who voted in favor of the bond issue and those not returning come September.

A review of the bond issue vote shoots some holes in that theory. But it is easy to see why some made the comparison.

To gain approval, the bond issue needed a minimum of 12 votes in the affirmative. It received 14. Those voting in favor were: Mark Bowery, John Gardner, Sherry Grubb, Andy Hare, Joe Herron, Dennis Houser, Bill Kilgore, Kit McGlothlin, Randy Morrell, Bob Neal, Bobby Russell, Mark Vance and Eddie Williams.

Voting no were: Darlene Calton, Michael Cole, Terry Harkleroad, Mack Harr, Baxter Hood, Matthew Johnson, Cheryl Russell, Pat Shull and Angie Stanley.

Some commissioners who voted no said they were doing so because their constituents asked them to, despite their personal understanding of the issue.

Some who voted yes said they had problems with some aspects of the plan, but had reached the conclusion the needs outweighed those concerns.

Groundbreaking for the county’s new high school, a result of the bond issue, is scheduled for Friday.

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