KINGSPORT — Election day is less than a month away and early voting begins this week. In Kingsport, two incumbents and three challengers are vying for three seats on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
The candidates include Linda Buckles, John Clark, Colette George, Eric Kerney and Tom Parham. Mayor Dennis Phillips is facing Gary Lane for a fifth term in office. Election day is May 21; early voting begins in Blountville today and in Kingsport on May 9. Early voting ends May 16.
The Times-News recently asked all of the candidates a series of questions on some of the major issues facing the city, including annexation, debt and education. Here are their answers.
Q. Board of Mayor and Aldermen members are elected at-large through non-partisan races and are meant to represent every citizen of Kingsport. Bristol and Sullivan County have districts, and Sullivan County now has partisan elections. What are your thoughts on partisan funding entering the BMA election?
• Phillips: There is no place in city government for partisan politics. One of the great privileges the BMA enjoys is the ability to make the best choice for our citizens without the influence of party pressure.
• Lane: I do not support aldermen being elected at-large. The city should be divided into zones for these seats. That way, each area is represented fairly, and the citizens of that area have the voice to represent them. It works for the Sullivan County Commission and the Sullivan County Board of Education. It can work for Kingsport. I have no opinion on partisanship for BMA elections. Get the funding properly, and report all donations and expenditures. This is one important thing to remember in running a campaign.
• Buckles: This is a non-partisan election for a non-partisan position, and I’ll gladly check my party affiliation at the door because I’m eager to work with anyone and everyone who is serious about Kingsport’s future. Kingsport needs leaders who work well with others and get their phone calls answered in Nashville. I’ve been involved in the GOP for many years at the local and state levels, and I have a solid working relationship with many legislators. I’m proud to have the support of both Republicans and Democrats, especially the sheriff and Lt. Governor Ramsey, and I look forward to using my experience and friendships as a team player for Kingsport’s future.
• Clark: I believe local elections should remain non-partisan in order to ensure all Kingsport residents are best served and represented in our city government. Aldermen should always make informed decisions based on what is best for the city and all citizens rather than for any one political party.
• George: I believe that the city mayor and aldermen should be elected at-large, as they represent all citizens of Kingsport all the time. If people running were only representing their neighborhood or political party it would be incredibly difficult at times to do what is best for ALL the citizens of Kingsport.
• Kerney: I believe the current way the Kingsport BMA members are elected, at-large and non-partisan, has worked well in the past and will continue to do so. It cuts down on partisan politics and all the issues that come with it and encourages the community to work closer together for common goals. The problem with partisan elections at the BMA level is that the issues they normally deal with have nothing to do with partisan politics anyway. As far as partisan funding entering the BMA elections, I can only answer for Eric Kerney. I’ve chosen to mostly fund my campaign with my own personal funds plus a few contributions I’ve been fortunate enough to receive from individual friends and supporters. I will have to leave the decision whether to accept or not accept partisan donations up to the conscience of each candidate.
• Parham: When the council-manager form of government was developed early in the 20th century, it was done so in part to distance the governance of cities from the machine politics that dominated cities previous to that time. These political machines determined who got jobs and contracts only on the basis of allegiance, without any thought to the ability, fairness or success of citizens and local businesses outside the machine.
I think a government focused solely on the daily needs and issues of all its citizens, not the daily needs and issues of partisan politics, is probably a government that is more open, freer and fairer to all. At the same time, I am proud to say that I am a lifelong conservative, because I do believe that the less intrusive a government is, the less it takes from producers, the more innovative and successful society can be. With all of that said, an open, free system, as we have in Kingsport through our council-manager form of government, is also open to the participation of all who wish to contribute or vote. As long as such contributions are fully disclosed, I personally leave decisions on impact for the voters to decide.