By Jeff Keeling
Mayor Clayton Stout will seek re-election to the Johnson City Commission in November. Stout officially confirmed his intentions to run for a second term in an interview with the News & Neighbor.
Stout cited his familiarity with construction projects and a mix of fiscal conservatism and what he called a willingness to invest wisely as among the reasons he deserves an additional four years.
“I think it’s a pretty simple question,” Stout said. “‘Is Johnson City better off than it was five years ago?’ I think the answer is yes, and I think I’ve played a part in that.”
Stout, 38, was elected in 2011, narrowly defeating incumbent Marcy Walker in a campaign partly spurred by opposition to the commission’s decision not to fund a standalone new senior center. Stout’s 2,559 votes were 244 better than Walker’s total, but more than 500 fewer than front runners Ralph Van Brocklin and Jeff Banyas, who were separated by just 21 votes.
Three of the commission’s five seats are up for reelection, the others currently being occupied by Ralph Van Brocklin and Jeff Banyas. Banyas, first elected in 2007, has said he will not seek reelection.
Stout, who runs Vertical Solutions, Inc., an elevator installation company, said the next few years would be critical in maintaining what he called good progress for the city. “We’re moving in the right direction, but it’s also about critical thinking and planning not to spend too much,” he said.
He said he would focus on continuing to fund basic infrastructure – he helped lead a funding increase for repaving last year – and on maintaining a strong retail base.
“Retail’s just changed completely with Internet sales,” Stout said. “Our neighbors from Kingsport and Bristol have stepped up their game and created a pretty level playing field, so we have to continue to keep that edge.”
Stout, who said his experience running a small business helps him understand making budgets and day-to-day accountability, said he’d like to see continued redevelopment downtown. That, combined with revitalization of the West Walnut Street corridor between downtown and East Tennessee State University, could be keys to increasing job opportunities for local college graduates, he said.
“I want to also create job opportunities here to keep ETSU graduates here. They’re not going to stay here if there aren’t jobs here, young professional opportunities, startup company possibilities. I think Walnut Street really represents an opportunity in that regard.”
Stout, who is married and has three young sons, said he would like to continue seeing enhancements in what he called a great public school system. All these goals, he said, are more realistically achievable today than they were when he took office.
“We came in in a tough economic climate, fund balance was what they depended on, we were issuing a lot of debt – it was just a tough time to be a city commissioner and there were some tough decisions. I think I’ve been there for the bad times and the good times, and I’m proud of that and think I have the experience to continue.”