KINGSPORT — Vice Mayor Tom Parham said he believes the greater Kingsport region must develop a long-range plan to address the city and county school situation, noting the issue affects all citizens and is much larger than just education.
Parham made these and other comments at a campaign kickoff event at Food City’s Press Room Thursday afternoon before 30-some friends and family members, including current Aldermen Jantry Shupe, Tom Segelhorst and John Clark.
First elected to the BMA four years ago, Parham has been vice mayor for the past two years. Prior to being elected, Parham retired from Eastman Chemical Co. after 36 years in finance, public relations and administration and has been involved in a number of community and civic service roles, including the Kingsport Greenbelt and Kingsport Riverwalk projects.
Parham is currently on the Chamber of Commerce board of directors, Netherland Inn steering committee and president of the SBK Animal Shelter. He is a past president of the YMCA, former member of the Kingsport Regional Planning Commission and former chairman of Keep Kingsport Beautiful.
“It’s a fun job, I enjoy making a difference and I have a passion for making improvements,” Parham said of the reasons why he is running for re-election. “I have a vision for what Kingsport might be.”
Parham spoke on his time in Kingsport and on his upbringing; while growing up he and his mother moved often and lived on food stamps; when his parents died early, he was raised by his grandparents at Rotherwood.
“I appreciate people for who they are, not what they have,” Parham said.
At a recent BMA meeting, Parham called on the city manager and his fellow aldermen to begin planning for a retreat after the May 21 election with one goal being to review and develop a long-term vision for the city, noting that the last vision effort undertaken by city officials was more than a decade ago.
However, the “biggest elephant in the room” facing Kingsport and Sullivan County is the issue of education and the two school systems. Earlier this month, Sullivan County Director of Schools Dr. Jubal Yennie proposed merging Sullivan North and Sullivan South high schools in an effort to better utilize resources, saving the system an estimated $2.9 million per year.
Parham called the schools issue “extremely important” and added the issue is larger than just education, affecting students, parents, taxpayers and economic development efforts.
“We must develop a long-range plan and stop skirmishing over today’s issue. We need to look out over the next five years,” Parham said. “Community attitudes are shattered right now.”
Parham said the city and county need to develop a plan before the state legislature does it for us.
Five candidates will be on the ballot for the three alderman seats in the May 21 city election — the incumbents, Tom Parham and John Clark, and the three challengers, Linda Buckles, Colette George and Eric Kerney. Mayor Dennis Phillips will face off against challenger Gary Lane.
Earlier voting begins May 1.