Note: This story was last updated at 11:45 a.m.
The starkest differences between any candidates at a Tuesday night Republican Party forum might have emerged in the race for Anderson County chancellor, where candidates Michael Farley and Nicki Cantrell clashed on questions of trial experience and whether the Chancery Court should ever be used to hear criminal cases.
In the race for mayor, Terry Frank, the incumbent, said she had presided over one of the few—and possibly the only—tax cut in Anderson County history, while her opponent, Commissioner Zach Bates, said the county’s biggest economic challenge is “retail leakage.”
The Republican forum, which was just a few blocks away from a competing League of Women Voters forum attended by Democratic candidates, highlighted the races where there is opposition in the May 6 GOP primary election: mayor, sheriff, chancellor and Juvenile Court judge. Candidates who are unopposed in the primaries gave brief statements to a crowd of about 200 people, while the nine candidates in contested races answered questions vetted by the party.
In the race for Juvenile Court judge, candidate Brian Hunt said he wants to establish a drug intervention program and truancy court, while candidate Lauren Biloski said she wants to expedite truancy cases, which often take months to resolve—with the children missing school in the meantime. Candidate Vickie Bannach said she supports a family drug court program in addition to the juvenile drug court.
Farley, one of three Republican candidates for chancellor, suggested some criminal cases could be heard in Chancery Court. Criminal cases can sometimes take 18 months to go to trial, and there are often times when the chancellor is doing nothing, Farley said.
“Why not move things along?” he asked rhetorically, saying the two courts have concurrent jurisdiction. “We should use Chancery Court to reach out to all the citizens of Anderson County and help them.”
But Cantrell objected.
“I don’t want to see it turned into criminal court,” she said. “Chancery Court is a court for our families.”
Farley, who cited his experience as Clinton city judge, also raised a question about Cantrell’s experience in Chancery Court, particularly her trial experience, and he suggested voters research the cases she has worked on.
Cantrell said she practices in Chancery Court in Anderson County and other counties throughout East Tennessee, working on adoptions, conservatorships, probates and estates, and divorce proceedings.
The third candidate for chancellor, Phil Harber, did not attend the forum. The current chancellor, William Lantrip, is retiring at the end of this eight-year term. There is no Democratic candidate.
In the mayor’s race, Frank said she has been “headstrong” on holding the line on property taxes and has worked on other policies to help make the cost of living competitive and “put money back into people’s hands.” A competitive cost-of-living could help encourage more U.S. Department of Energy employees to live in Anderson County, Frank said.
She cited the increasing costs of housing prisoners and law enforcement as budgetary concerns. Those costs have more than doubled from about $5 million to $11.5 million, Frank said. And that spending has an impact on spending in other areas, including for schools, she said.
Frank, who was first elected in August 2012, also 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 said the progress is the result of teamwork and many meetings in the economic development community.
“There’s a real concerted effort in our area to bring jobs and develop the skills necessary,” including at local community colleges and the University of Tennessee, Frank said.
Bates, who is giving up his commission seat after one four-year term to run for mayor, emphasized the importance of working with county commissioners. He said the county has drug and housing problems that need to be addressed. And the county needs to broaden its tax base and bring in retail, Bates said.
The $100 million retail leakage from the north end of Anderson County means that residents are going elsewhere to shop for clothes, Bates said.
“I think we need to take a stronger approach,” he said.
Some voters might have questions about his age. Bates was 25 when he announced his candidacy in January. But at Tuesday’s forum, he suggested he views his youth as an attribute.
“Age is an opportunity, not an obstacle,” Bates said.
The winner of the Republican primary for mayor will face Democrat Jim Hackworth, a former state representative, and possibly an Independent, Bradley S. Rickett, in the Aug. 7 county general election.
Lay and Myers emphasized the importance of Sheriff’s Department communications and work with other counties.
Myers, who is an Oak Ridge Police Department officer who might be best known for his work with the city’s Neighborhood Watch program, said he is a liaison who would work with judges and also out in the county.
“The community wants to their sheriff out in the community,” said Myers, who added that he has worked in Anderson County for roughly 20 of his 24 years in law enforcement. “I know and understand the people of Anderson County.”
Lay suggested that, if elected, he would join his deputies out in the field on missions ranging from drug raids to homicide investigations.
“It’s very important that the sheriff leads by example,” said Lay, who now works for the Tennessee Highway Patrol but is also a former Scott County sheriff and former deputy U.S. marshal. “The most important thing is to put on a uniform and get out and work with the men.”
Lay and Myers both said they would oppose housing federal inmates at the Anderson County Detention Facility in Clinton because the prisoners could make more contacts here and decide to “set up shop.”
Lay said he would favor a common-sense approach to relieve jail overcrowding. Some prisoners—murderers, rapists, child molesters—clearly need to remain in jail, Lay said. But maybe people caught driving on a suspended license could be cited to court, rather than brought to jail, he said.
Myers said he has been pushing for work release to help combat overcrowding, and he said the current sheriff has now implemented that program. Myers said he wants to work with judges on the issue.
The winner of the May 6 Republican primary for sheriff will compete against the current sheriff, Democrat Paul White, in the Aug. 7 county general election.
More information will be added as it becomes available.