The Chamber of Commerce serving Johnson City, Washington County and Jonesborough, with input from its Governmental Relations Council, recently surveyed the candidates seeking seats on the Johnson City Board of Commissioners.
The Chamber is pleased to present the results of the survey and trusts you will rely on these responses as you determine who should represent us on the Johnson City Commission. Early voting begins Oct. 14 and ends Oct. 29 with Election Day set for Nov. 3. Please vote and exercise this freedom. The Chamber wishes to thank the candidates for their willingness to run and serve.
Candidates: Kyle J. Beagle; Jeff Clark; Todd Fowler; Debbie Harley-McClaskey; Aaron T. Murphy; Alona Norwood; W. Turney Williams; and Joe Wise
Candidates were asked to limit their answers to 50 words or less.
What are your three key reasons for seeking a seat on the City Commission?
Beagle: Our elected officials have refused to recognize the political, economic, and social disparities that impact us all! We need more representation that’ll stand with our people, strengthen and protect our small businesses, and build a more inclusive community for all!
Clark: My three main reasons for running for the Johnson City commission are 1. Be a representative for our working-class residents, 2. Help Johnson City grow in a way that is good for all our city’s residents, and 3. Build a foundation of compassionate leadership in JC.
Fowler: A. To make sure to use the taxpayers money in the best ways possible. B. To be an advocate for our city and our region. C. To foster our cities conservative values.
Harley-McClaskey: My three reasons for seeking a seat on the Commission are: 1. Decisions should be made through the lens “people come first;” 2. Empowering new and diverse voices to serve on committees and boards; 3. Align city mission and goals with departmental objectives coupled with improved communication regarding goal achievement.
Murphy: To promote unity in the midst of the national social, racial and political tension that is infiltrating our community. To also bring my leadership experience from corporate America in 7 states and the non-profit arena. Lastly, to offer a needed diverse perspective and representation for the people of Johnson City.
Norwood: Community members and leaders involved in the Black Lives Matter movement in Johnson City proposed and encouraged me to run for City Commission. An educational background in Peace and Social Justice made me feel qualified to seek election. Having a passion for helping reinforces my decision to run.
Williams: The primary reason for running for the City Commission is to preserve continuity of leadership. I believe the city is well run and I wish to help continue that leadership. I wish to help promote the things we love about Johnson City and encourage growth without losing the special qualities…
Wise: I possess a continued commitment to, and interest in, public service. My wide-ranging experiences in public service including: Chair, Johnson City Regional Planning Commission; Elected, Washington County Commission; Chair, Walnut St. Taskforce. Throughout my service, I have sought an approach which is Reasonable and Responsible.
How would you contribute to the work of the Board of Commissioners and what distinguishes you from other candidates?
Beagle: My contribution comes in the form of a fresh voice with new ideas that’ll aim to strengthen our people’s economic stability, while creating new economic opportunities. I plan to hold on to our heritage while promoting changes and policies that create a more representative environment.
Clark: I believe that my young age and experience in the working-class community give me the knowledge necessary to represent a majority population of our city’s residents. I will be a voice for those who have been long forgotten by the political process.
Fowler: I will help anticipate and assess the needs and challenges of our growing city while applying my focus as a businessman to the bottom line of the budget.
Harley-McClaskey: Johnson City has been home for 36 years. My family owns a small business and I understand the hurdles entrepreneurs face. I was certified by the Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence on performance management and community development. Local organizations and businesses have utilized my expertise to set and achieve goals.
Murphy: I would apply my diverse perspective and experience working with many city leaders, overseeing large teams, and managing budgets and projects in various states in support of the commission team. This is also what distinguishes me from all other candidates.
Norwood: Johnson City has never seen this many young people actively trying to create positive change in our community. As the youngest commissioner and fellow activist, I would be voicing constituents’ concerns and facilitating change that benefits all the people of Johnson City. I am the bridge between activists and officials…
Williams: I have a long history of working with others on numerous boards and committees. I am used to listening to all involved and contributing to group success. A real life career of evaluating complex problems and actually solving issues distinguishes me from other candidates.
Wise: I will continue to invest the time to understand and carefully consider issues. I have a history of service that demonstrate this fact. Throughout this public service, I have been willing to make sometimes difficult decisions, regardless of political pressures, for the greater public good.
How will you work to achieve more collaboration between the city, county, and town?
Beagle: I plan to have an open ear and open mind while working alongside our area’s leaders. Working with them to help the people of our region. Reaching out to the leaders in our area to help with any challenges they may face, while promoting new, regionalist policy ideas that’d benefit…
Clark: I want to utilize the existing avenues of communication between the city, county, and town to improve cooperation between these entities so that we can ensure all our county’s residents have the quality of life they deserve.
Fowler: I will continue to build relationships based on openness, vision, and integrity.
Harley-McClaskey: Buy-in from the community and each government within the county is critical for collaboration and shared goal achievement. Citizen-led boards that reflect the diversity of our communities will guide the goal setting process. Departmental objectives will also be aligned with these goals. Greenways and “child-friendly” communities then become a reality.
Murphy: I plan to build on the existing partnerships and successes of our predecessors while creating new relationships to collaborate on joint projects where everyone benefits.
Norwood: Respecting governmental agencies in a given area by fostering open and transparent lines of communication between city, county and town. Communication is crucial to understand the issues and commonalities in various regions. As a commissioner, I will collaborate with and find mutual opportunities for the Appalachian Highlands.
Williams: In order to collaborate one has to talk. I am very familiar with the other members of the city and county commission and more than willing to work together on issues that affect us all. There has been a joint city/county commission committee currently not active but that perhaps needs…
Wise: Successful collaboration requires communication and trust. As Commissioner, I have worked to maintain relationships with my friends and former colleagues on the County Commission. We should continue to focus our attention on identifying common opportunities. We need to move beyond simply addressing problems. We need to seek common purpose.
What is your perspective on regionalism?
Beagle: A regionalist approach to governance is a way to connect the common interests and challenges faced by the cities and towns within a region. As a commissioner, it is my goal to continuously bridge together our region by addressing collective issues that are faced within our cities.
Clark: The Johnson City Commission needs to recognize that the decisions it makes not only affects its residents but the entire region around us. We should hear all the residents in the region, and work with them.
Fowler: Regionalism is very important for business attraction and retention. We need cooperation among all of the participants in our region.
Harley-McClaskey: As an ETSU professor, I have seen the regional impact the university has had on Northeast Tennessee. We don’t live, work and play all in the same city or town. Government leaders must collaborate to invest in economic growth and livability the way the university has invested in our communities.
Murphy: Regionalism is about having partnerships. It is important that we partner with other cities, towns and counties on collaborative efforts without losing the identity and best interest of the people of Johnson City.
Norwood: The Appalachian Highlands is a deeply connected area, with many people living and working in neighboring towns. We must work with the surrounding areas to expand our economic, cultural, and political/administrative work. Job creation throughout the East Tennessee area is mutually beneficial and more important than the invisible lines.
Williams: Regionalism is working together to promote the area as a whole to attract individuals, industry and tourism. It does not in any sense limit our ability to promote Johnson City. The City Commission and the Chamber will continue to work together to promote ‘the best” of the Tri-cities right here…
Wise: Regional collaboration is critical. Our future is tied to the success of others in the region. There are opportunities within the joint economic development efforts which will allow us to work together to positively impact our regions. I look forward to seeing those regional proposals being presented.
What should the City do to foster existing business expansion and recruit new business?
Beagle: Our city has its own set of economic challenges, so a development strategy tailored to our specific needs is imperative. The backbone of our economy is local enterprise, therefore allocating resources to support local businesses will encourage both economic and community development.
Clark: The City should focus on expansion of small businesses and ensure that these jobs pay a livable wage and provide good benefits to their employees. Bringing jobs in the area is important, but we must ensure these are good jobs.
Fowler: Low taxes are essential for families and businesses looking for the right place to prosper. We will continue to promote our beautiful area of the country and our rich cultural heritage.
Harley-McClaskey: Covid-19 has emphasized the necessity to invest in new entrepreneurs. Small businesses can open with the right investments and governmental support. University graduates are now looking to “make a job” instead of “find a job.” The key to small business growth is broadband and city leaders working to reduce barriers.
Murphy: The City should promote job training and educational programs for much needed trades so that existing businesses have the skilled labor available to expand their services. Without available skilled labor, businesses cannot expand, and new businesses will not come to our city.
Norwood: The Blue Ribbon Task Force works with ETSU’s Business Department, Sullivan County and Kingsport to figure out ways to boost entruperanal development and recruitment. Johnson City can get more involved with this program to continue economic development by forming a committee assisting existing small businesses with their needs.
Williams: Business migrates to or expands where they sense a good quality of life for their employees and an educated work force. We are fortunate to have a great university in Johnson City at ETSU. Let us expand technical education and job training and make sure we have great jobs for…
Wise: The city and staff must maintain a business-friendly environment. Reliable delivery of municipal services is essential. Public safety (fire/police/EMS) and public works (water/sewer/traffic) play a vital role in creating an atmosphere where businesses thrive. Further, a commitment to education and workforce development is key to a vibrant future.
Please describe your understanding of the role of the City Commissioner and City Manager?
Beagle: Both the manager and commissioner play vital roles in the well-being of a city. These are citizens elected to represent both the social and economic interests of their communities. These titles thus allow for an intimate understanding of local issues to be heard at the administrative level.
Clark: The role of the manager is to take the directives of the commission and implement them as the “de facto” executive head of city. Personally, I am against this form of governance because it takes the power away from citizens to have a direct involvement on how the city is…
Fowler: The role of the city commission is to solve problems for the taxpayers and property owners and promote Johnson City. The role of the city manager is leading the city employees and executing the wishes of the taxpayers as expressed through the city commission.
Harley-McClaskey: Commissioners work for everyone who lives, works, and plays here. Citizen boards will drive the goals set in the strategic plan the city manager will then execute, ensuring departmental objectives are aligned. Our community depends on the commission to hold our government leaders accountable to ensure livability and economic growth.
Murphy: The City Commission is a governing board with specific responsibilities and authorities including the direction of the City Manager as he manages city budgets, personnel, projects, departments, and other day to day operations.
Norwood: The City Commission carries financial responsibilities such as investments, property and license taxes, setting civil service salaries and providing water services. The City Manager is selected by Commissioners. The City Manager oversees accounting and financial duties, and appoints civil service leadership. They work as check and balances for local government.
Williams: The city manager is the COO or chief operating officer. The commission is the board of directors with other duties. Ultimately the city manager works for and at the pleasure of the city commission.
Wise: City Commissioners are members of the city’s governing body. The city charter spells out a range of duties, responsibilities and authorities held by the City Commission. The City Manager is the administrative head of municipal government. The manager is responsible for day-to-day operations.
What should be the City’s role during post-pandemic recovery efforts?
Beagle: The city administration should play a central role in post-pandemic affaires. An ideal city organized recovery effort would include implementing best practices for limiting further virus outbreaks, providing small business protections and support, and transitioning our children back into a normal, safe learning environment.
Clark: Until the Pandemic ends, and thereafter, we need to find ways to assist as many small businesses as possible to keep their doors open and their employees on payroll. The city can play an active role in keeping our economy stable until things get back to normal.
Fowler: The same as before the pandemic. Anticipate and assess the needs of the city and come up with solutions to help the city and its citizens.
Harley-McClaskey: The city should be a facilitator of data and local resources to address residual Covid-19 effects for: 1. Individuals and the local workforce to access health care; 2. Families’ economic viability, especially ALICE households who were already struggling; 3. Potential investors and entrepreneurs to rebuild small businesses crippled or lost.
Murphy: The city should assist businesses to become better equipped for future challenges by strengthening their preparedness and resiliency measures. We should also reallocate resources and workers from failed businesses and investments to new opportunities for economic growth.
Norwood: Our commission meetings must be more accessible to the community to invite public opinion. As a proponent for better education, I believe we need to reallocate funds into our education system to make up for lost time
Williams: The city has a role in promoting the public health and well fare. Actually they have done a pretty good job. Education and transmitting information is key.
Wise: The city and staff must maintain a business-friendly environment. Reliable delivery of municipal services is essential.
What improvements would you seek to bring to Johnson City’s government?
Beagle: Establishing a local government that has more involvement and inclusivity with our citizens to address specific needs of our city. Furthermore, it’s important that we reevaluate the city’s budget to restructure and prioritize the funding to tackle more important/relevant goals that’ll help our city grow!
Clark: I believe it is time to look at rewriting our charter to ensure our government can meet the needs of our residents and progress to a more modern style of city governance.
Fowler: As a fiscal conservative, I believe in smaller, less intrusive government. I would help the city grow without government expansion.
Harley-McClaskey: City goals and departmental objectives must be aligned so that city employees are working toward a true north star. Citizen-led boards who reflect the city’s diversity will guide these goals and objectives to address blind spots and biases so all neighborhoods, businesses, schools, and families receive fair and equal treatment.
Murphy: The creation of a succession plan for key city workers who will be retiring soon and an evaluation strategy for measuring the effectiveness of city services.
Norwood: A major component of effective change in the Johnson City government entails. Opening the line of communication among elected city officials and their constituents to ensure we are doing our jobs as representatives of the community at large.
Williams: We need to listen to all who wish to be heard and keep a steady hand at the helm of our fair city.
Wise: I believe the city needs to move forward with its strategic plan process. The City Commission has invested considerable time in revising and restating this renewed strategic plan. This plan can then be a guide to all spending and policy decisions. Let’s begin with the end in mind.
Do you feel any City Charter changes are warranted?
Beagle: As of now, I have no intentions on altering the Johnson City charter.
Clark: Specifically, I believe that it is time for our citizens to be able to directly elect their Mayor to provide our city’s residents with more democratic control of how their city is run.
Fowler: The city charter was recently changed to allow distilleries, which helps to recruit new business. Occasionally changes will be needed depending on the circumstances.
Harley-McClaskey: There is much we can learn from our regional partners— us from them and them from us. It’s worth reviewing all the neighboring city’s charters to update and amend Johnson City’s Charter. Collaboration will make us better regional partners, create hot spots for economic opportunity, and address the workforce brain-drain.
Murphy: I do not feel that the City Charter needs any changes at this time.
Norwood: Waste products are currently allowed to be disposed of in streams, but should be prohibited within city limits and in the Appalachian Highlands region. The City Charter needs to include gender-inclusive language. The online format should provide hyper-links to referred material to make research easier for constituents.
Williams: No charter changes are indicated at this time.
Wise: I believe the city charter has served our community well for over 80 years. There not changes I am advocating for. Ultimately, changes to the Charter result from the vote of the citizens of Johnson City. As always, I am receptive to their comment and perspective on this.
Do you support the City’s long-term practice, consistent with state law, in which Commissioners do not declare a political party affiliation as candidates or as sitting Commissioners?
Beagle: Yes, it’s important that candidates, at the local level, are available multilaterally to all their constituents on the ballot and not specific tickets associated to certain parties. However, I think it’s just as important for any candidate to seek the support of any party their ideologies align with!
Clark: The practice is okay, but I don’t think it is correct to claim that this puts the candidates over party politics. For example, 4 of the 8 candidates running for this office hold an explicitly political position outside of this race.
Fowler: I support keeping the city commission non-partisan. I think a city commissioner should represent all citizens of the city.
Harley-McClaskey: Commissioners serve all Johnson Citians. The city should invest in all families, businesses, workers, and neighborhoods. I know that collaboration, when all voices are at the table, leads to fair processes and a representative government. I’m transparent about my partisan leanings but believe that job and my community come first.
Murphy: Yes, I support candidates and Commissioners not declaring a political party affiliation. This allows them the opportunity to first prioritize “the best interest of all people” before a particular political party.
Norwood: In local elections, non-partisanship is essential. Citizens should have the opportunity to make an informed decision between all candidates. The commissioner must represent every member of the community, not just those who identify with a political party.
Williams: The question is not well stated. The city commission is historically managed in a non-partisan manner and should continue to be so. The political party affiliation of each candidate or current commissioner is well known and available on line but historically the commissioners leave politics ‘at the door’ when they…
Wise: Yes. City government is tasked with performing essential services of everyday life (e.g. water, sewer, garbage, parks, etc.). It seems counter productive to divide into political factions. I do not believe city hall would be improved by behaving like Washington, DC.
What circumstances must be in place for you to raise property taxes?
Beagle: The need of specific capital projects, that aim to better the well-being of our city, may require a rise in property taxes. For example, providing all students with a tablet and a mobile hotspot, during a pandemic, to provide them with access to internet and their virtual learning platforms.
Clark: Instead of raising taxes across the board, I believe that a new tiered property tax system would not only raise the money necessary to grow our city and provide the necessary services but would also make sure that tax burdens are on those who can better afford them.
Fowler: I will work to find solutions to problems without increasing taxes.
Harley-McClaskey: Fifty-three percent of Johnson Citians live in ALICE households. Property and sales taxes are the two ways the Tennessee legislature has restricted local governments for funding schools and infrastructure projects. Schools need to be fully funded but not on the backs of those who cannot afford and additional tax burden.
Murphy: It is my priority not to raise the property taxes of Johnson City. A tax increase should only be considered after Commissioners first exhaust other avenues and outlets to avoid this action.
Norwood: A small annual increase in property taxes will create economic stability, thus attracting more businesses to the Johnson City area. The implementation of a proportional property tax increase that taxes those with a higher median household income will ensure everyone is paying an affordable property tax.
Williams: I would not be willing to raise property taxes unless we simply could not pay our bills. Controlled growth, job creation and prudent spending are required
Wise: Some candidates may promise they will never raise taxes. We must under state law adopt a balanced budget. I will only consider a tax increase when all other reasonable options have fallen short and the welfare of the city is at risk. Economic growth is essential to keeping taxes low.
What will you do to continue the collaboration between the Chamber and the Commission?
Beagle: I believe promoting legislation and policies that accommodate the interests of both entities will help strengthen the relationship thereof; because collective collaboration can achieve what one entity can’t do by themselves.
Clark: I will continue to represent the interest of local business owners, while still ensuring that I can rightly represent the needs of the working-class residents of our city that work for those businesses.
Fowler: Collaboration literally means working together. As a businessman and a sports physician, I understand the power of teamwork. I will continue to build on the foundation established by prior administrations. I will be accessible and attend functions whenever possible.
Harley-McClaskey: Relationships with organizations such as Founders Forge must be fostered to not only support entrepreneurs but also to identify barriers city leaders can address for small businesses to form. This will not only help the Chamber grow but will also increase economic growth for businesses and economic opportunity for workers.
Murphy: I plan to help ensure that funding and support is in place so that the Chamber can develop our business community and promote our city and region at the highest level.
Norwood: Strengthening the relationship between Chamber and Commission looks like communicating about our long term goals for economic development of Johnson City and the Appalachian Highlands. We must communicate with one another about concerns and projects that impact the overall quality of life for residences.
Williams: I would be happy to routinely visit with and work closely with the Chamber.
Wise: I stand prepared to assist our local chamber as it transitions into a 21st Century Chamber. Now more than ever, our Chamber has a huge potential role to play in supporting, cultivating and encouraging a robust economic recovery and entrepreneurial civic culture in a post-Covid world.