Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable is running for reelection

J. H. Osborne • Updated Dec 5, 2017 at 8:38 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable is seeking re-election to what would be his second consecutive term at the county’s helm.

Venable filed Friday to run for the GOP nomination in the Republican primary in May. The general election is in August.

As of Monday afternoon, Venable had one would-be challenger: Kingsport developer Dave Clark, a former member of the Model City’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen, picked up paperwork last week. Clark had not yet filed the completed petition to get on the ballot for the GOP primary in May. The deadline to do so is noon Feb. 15.

County mayors are elected to four-year terms.

Venable, of Kingsport, is a former state representative and previously served as county mayor from 2002-2006. In 2014, he defeated two-term former mayor Steve Godsey in the GOP primary, stopping Godsey’s bid for a third term. 

Talking with the Times-News Monday afternoon, Venable said he’d put a lot of thought into running again and had decided weeks ago that he would.

“I never had any other intention, whether I had an opponent or not,” Venable, adding he’d had phone calls from supporters urging him to go ahead and file to remove any speculation as to his intent.

Venable, who ran in 2014 on a platform promising to return respect and character to county government — while improving employee moral and regaining the confidence of the public, said this term of office has proved to be much more challenging than his earlier service in the role.

“When I got here this time, it was a completely different place than it was the first time,” Venable said. “The county’s financial standing needed work. There had been a tax increase for the budget approved before I got here this time, but it didn’t fix the situation. It didn’t improve the county’s financial standing at all. And the atmosphere here wasn’t positive. Morale was bad.”

Venable said things have improved and the county now is poised for great growth, coupled with greater efficiency and better customer service.

“During my first term our greatest success was creation of NETWorks (the joint economic development effort between the county and its cities),” Venable said. “And that was the result of working with Kingsport and Bristol and that goes on today. It’s still strong.”

More recently, Venable said, the county and cities have worked together toward joint animal control. While that partnership recently dissolved, Venable said that was due to a lack of available funding on the county’s part — but the county’s animal shelter and its counterparts in the cities continue to cooperate on many levels.

“That’s another partnership that will continue,” Venable said.

As far as general relations between the county and cities, Venable said “We have excellent cooperation.”

“We don’t compete with each other now,” Venable said. “We don’t fight with each other now. We disagree sometimes with each other — like I did with my brothers growing up. But that did’t ruin a lifelong relationship.”

During his current term, which Venable said left him in “crisis mode” for the first two and a half years, the county has settled a lawsuit filed by the sheriff (for about one-fourth of what the lawsuit sought in additional funding), approved a $140 million school facilities plan developed and recommended by all three boards of education in the county, and is making progress toward resolving longstanding overcrowding at the county’s jail.

Proceeds from the $140 million in school bond debt was divided between the three school systems, including those in Kingsport and Bristol.

“Because of the bond market being what it was, we only had to borrow $135 million to get $140 million,” Venable said, and due to changes in average daily attendance, the city systems got more than they had originally anticipated.

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