CLINTON—She’s attacked him over a 24-year-old tax hike. He’s blasted her over lawsuits and turmoil in the Anderson County Courthouse.
The two candidates, Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank and her challenger, Jim Hackworth, will face off in the August 7 election.
Frank, a Republican, was first elected mayor in a special election in August 2012. Now she is running for her first four-year term.
Hackworth, a Democrat, is a former state representative and Anderson County commissioner.
The two have battled in forums, on radio shows, and through ads and flyers. Their political squabbles have largely ignored the third candidate, Independent Bradley Rickett.
Frank said she’s kept her promises during the past two years to make government more efficient, focus on jobs, and stabilize the property tax rate. She said the county’s bond rating has improved two notches, and she’s cut $160,000 out of her budget and instituted more customer-friendly service.
“We are moving in the right direction,” Frank said. “Good things are happening.”
Taking aim at Hackworth, she said he voted to increase taxes when he was a county commissioner in 1990, when the rate was increased 24 cents. Frank has also accused her opponent of proposing a 14-cent increase in 1980.
But Hackworth, who has denied proposing a tax increase, also denied he voted for a tax increase 24 years ago, saying he actually proposed a motion during that August 1990 meeting to lower the rate that had just passed by six cents.
“This vote passed,” Hackworth said. “Ironically, this possibly became Anderson County’s first tax reduction.”
Hackworth said he worked to lower the sales tax and create a sales tax holiday while he was a state representative and, citing his previous experience, helped bring 8,000 new jobs to the county.
“I assure you, I have not voted for tax increases,” Hackworth said.
Hackworth has said the county is wasting money on legal fees under Frank through lawsuits and legal actions. If elected, his top priority will be re-establishing good working relationships between the mayor’s office and other county offices, Hackworth said. He has pledged to cut the mayor’s staff budget in half, repair damaged relationships, and ramp up efforts to attract jobs to Anderson County.
“Solving our problems needs to be done in the board room, not the courtroom,” he said. “We must end the crippling distractions.”
In response to a question at one forum, Frank said there is not a communication problem among county officials, pointing out the speedy passage of at least one budget and saying she communicates with department heads and helps them solve problems.
Frank has emphasized her “countless meetings” with different boards and companies, her role as treasurer of the East Tennessee Development District’s board of directors and East Tennessee Human Resource Agency’s Board and Policy Council, and her good relationship with others, including Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. She’s also touted the support she’s received from local state legislators, including senators Randy McNally and Ken Yager.
Frank is former co-owner and operator of Nature’s Marketplace in Oak Ridge. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Middle Tennessee State University.
Hackworth has a master’s degree in organizational management, is retired from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and served on the Anderson County Commission for 10 years and in the Tennessee House of Representatives for eight.
Asked in one forum about their vision for the county, Frank said she’d like to lower the crime rate and attract more jobs, sales tax revenues, and families. Hackworth also emphasized the need for more jobs and retail. Rickett said he wants to lower the crime rate to single digits and also cut taxes.
The three were also asked about the largest issue facing the county.
“Bickering and arguing,” Rickett said. “We need to stop the bickering and arguing.”
Declining sales tax revenues and workers who choose to live elsewhere, Frank said.
“You have more houses available than people wanting to live here,” she said.
The lack of civility, which “drives people away,” and the lack of jobs for residents, said Hackworth, who has taken aim at several personnel decisions made by Frank.
“Bringing that Washington-style politics to Anderson County is hurting our county,” Hackworth said. “If our community has turbulent waters…they’re going to go to another county.”
But Frank said unemployment in Anderson County is down 1.8 percent in roughly the past two years, and Anderson County ranks fifth in average weekly wages. She has cited hundreds of jobs that have returned to industries in Anderson County after shrinking during the recession—as well as new jobs that have been added in expansions—at companies that include SL Tennessee, Aisin, Omega Plastics, and Eagle Bend Manufacturing. She has also emphasized the potential economic opportunities associated with the planned $6.5 billion Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge.
The county has also been removed from high-risk audit status, Frank said.
She said the progress is the result of teamwork and many meetings in the economic development community.
Still, Hackworth said the county need to be more aggressive in attracting jobs. “We can do better,” he said. “We can do more.”
Rickett, a machine operator, said he was born and raised in Anderson County but has seen it die.
He said he will work “24/7” and set aside his Saturdays to meet with county residents as a way to open up communications.
“I run for mayor because I want to do something for this county,” Rickett said. He recommended trying to bring in more industry. Retail will follow, Rickett said.
Early voting started July 18 and ends August 2.