CLINTON—She says she’s kept her promise to protect Anderson County from higher taxes and worked to make government more efficient while improving customer service.
He says the county needs a more targeted approach to bringing in new retail and rebuilding the housing market.
The two candidates, incumbent Terry Frank and her challenger Zach Bates, face off in the Republican primary in Anderson County on Tuesday.
Frank was first elected in a special election in August 2012. She is the first female mayor of Anderson County and running for her first four-year term. She is completing the unexpired term of former mayor Rex Lynch, who resigned in January 2011.
Bates is a one-term Anderson County Commissioner who is not seeking re-election to that seat.
During recent candidate forums, Frank, who has a bachelor’s degree in political science and owns a small business with her husband Lee, said she has presided over one of the few—and possibly the only—tax cut in Anderson County history. That makes the county more competitive, including with nearby communities such as Lenoir City, she said.
“We can’t tax our way to a better economy,” Frank said during one recent forum at the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce. “I’ve kept that promise.”
She said Bates voted against the tax cut.
Frank 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 said the progress is the result of teamwork and many meetings in the economic development community.
During an April 24 candidate forum in Clinton, Frank said she’s worked hard to increase the county’s reserves and its fiscal position, and improved its debt rating, which was on a negative watch in 2009 before she was elected.
She said she’s served on the county’s industrial board for 10 years and attended more than 150 meetings on economic development and workforce issues, and another 55-plus on workforce development. That’s an issue that is “enormously important,” Frank said.
“We have an enormously skilled workforce,” she said.
She said she’s also been elected treasurer of the East Tennessee Development District’s board of directors as well as treasurer of the East Tennessee Human Resource Agency’s Board and Policy Council.
The biggest issue facing Anderson County, Frank said, is flat revenue and flat growth, while the single largest issue inside the government is the jail and spending for law enforcement. The sheriff’s budget has grown from $5 million to $11.4 million in just 10 years, Frank said. But the county needs to focus on infrastructure, roads, and electric, she said.
Meanwhile, Bates said he has served under several different mayors, on county committees, and helped raise the fund balance twice.
He has emphasized the need to work with other county officials, including commissioners, although he hasn’t said whether that comment is aimed at Frank, who has had high-profile disputes with Sheriff Paul White and Law Director Jay Yeager.
“The underlying problem is communication and leadership,” Bates said. “Every issue can be solved by working with other elected officials.”
Bates said the county has drug and housing problems that need to be addressed. Although he hasn’t outlined specifics, Bates said the county needs to broaden its tax base and bring in retail.
“I think we need to take a stronger approach,” he said. “We have to have a focused approach to retail. We have to have a focused approach on the housing market.”
Bates was 25 when he announced his candidacy in January, and he acknowledged that some voters might have questions about his age. But at a Republican Party forum in April, he suggested he views his youth as an attribute.
“Age is an opportunity, not an obstacle,” Bates said.
During the April 24 forum, Bates was asked about his professional expertise and business experience.
He said he has worked for his father since he was 13, starting with mowing yards and continuing today with the family-owned tree service.
With Anderson County, “The people own the business,” Bates said. “The biggest thing for small businesses is staying out of their way.”
The winner of the Republican primary for mayor on Tuesday will face Democrat Jim Hackworth, a former state representative, and an Independent, Bradley S. Rickett, in the Aug. 7 county general election.