By Scott Robertson
Washington County Commissioner Joe Grandy has announced his intent to run for the office of county mayor. Grandy, who is serving his second term as sixth district commissioner, said he plans to run on a platform of education, economic growth and infrastructure. “It’s about what’s the right thing to do with the long run in mind,” Grandy said.
Grandy said he first ran for office because he disagreed with the commission’s use of large sums of debt to build and renovate schools. “When I was first elected in 2010, my pledge was to improve efficiency and reduce costs wherever possible.” To that end, he said, he has been budget committee chair for a commission that has saved taxpayers millions of dollars compared to the way things had been when he arrived.
“We eliminated healthcare benefits for county commissioners,” Grandy said. “We refinanced our outstanding school debt for a savings of $19.9 million over 20 years. We cut projected school construction costs by $50 million, which eliminated $149 million in new debt. That much new debt would have cost $223 million in future interest payments. All in all, we’ve saved taxpayers about $392 million.
“For the first time ever, we’ve got a long-term plan, a path to make Washington County debt-free by 2037. That’s why I’m running for mayor – to keep us on that track to zero debt.”
Grandy, who has been president and general manager of Ferguson Enterprises in Washington County since 1985, said his experience in running a business has taught him the value both of sound fiscal management and of quality education. “That’s where the educational rubber really meets the economic road. Does our available workforce meet the needs of our existing businesses? And will our future workforce be able to attract the kind of better-paying jobs that will keep our best and brightest kids here?”
Cooperation will be the key in both education and economic development, Grandy said. On the education side, Grandy plans to reach out to Johnson City officials to “begin a dialogue to help heal some ruffled feathers.” Current County Mayor Dan Eldridge, who is not seeking re-election, has a running disagreement with the Johnson City Board of Education regarding school funding models.
“I respect the work Dan has done as mayor and I’m not interested in moving any of the improvements he has made in county government backwards, but it is important that we improve relationships between the county government and the city,” Grandy said.
The county should also continue working on cooperative region-wide economic development efforts, Grandy said, pointing to the recent Aerospace Park project as an example. As chairman of the Washington County Economic Development Council, Grandy was instrumental in bringing that organization together with Carter and Unicoi County’s economic development entities to form the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Development Partnership. “The competition isn’t Kingsport,” Grandy said. “It’s places like Richmond, Charlotte, Charleston and Greenville, S.C. I have no doubt we can successfully compete with those cities if we promote our region as a whole.”