Roane County candidates in four contested races—county executive, sheriff, circuit court judge, and circuit court clerk—discussed issues ranging from federal funding for U.S. Department of Energy work to anti-drug D.A.R.E. programs in local schools during a standing-room-only forum in Oak Ridge on Tuesday.
The forum was at Roane State Community College. Freelance reporter Sara Wise covered it for Oak Ridge Today. Here’s a summary of what the candidates said.
County executive candidates Mike Farmer and incumbent Ron Woody both attended the forum.
When asked about the Plateau Partnership Park, Farmer said Roane County has “several million dollars” invested in the Roane Regional Business Technology Park. He said that this technology park, as well as the Plateau Partnership Park, is important to the county from an economic standpoint.
The Plateau Partnership Park is an economic development partnership between Cumberland, Morgan, and Roane counties, and it includes more than 1,000 acres on two sites, one near the Rockwood airport and the other farther west in Cumberland County.
Woody said it’s something he’s “very passionate about.” He told the audience that $2.5 million was invested into the park, but he said it still needs $20 million of infrastructure and that “we will not get property tax out of it.”
“I do not think this is fair for our taxpayers to borrow $2.5 million and get nothing out, financially,” said Woody, who is running for re-election after one four-year term.
When asked for perspective on the proposal to build an airport in the Roane County section of Oak Ridge, Woody said he attends meetings in Oak Ridge “about once a week” and that he has seen several presentations about the airport at the former K-25 site. He said it’s important to first consider other options, such as the role the Rockwood airport might play.
“We do have an outstanding airport up in Rockwood,” he said.
However, he said that the proposed airport in Oak Ridge would be “a good asset” for industrial improvement.
Farmer is a former one-term Roane County executive who lost to Woody by 575 votes in 2010.
When asked about the role the county executive has in scientific research and K-25 cleanup, Farmer reminded the audience that both the former K-25 site and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are Roane County facilities. He said that it is important for the county executive to partner with all counties in the region to ensure that the area is “getting fair treatment in Washington.”
Woody agreed that partnership is important, mentioning that he is a member of the Energy Communities Alliance in Washington, D.C., chaired by Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan. He said the role is “a lot about relationships and that’s why I spend a lot of time in Oak Ridge.” He said he meets with Department of Energy officials and contractors often in Oak Ridge and Washington.
Both candidates said that they are hopeful that Volkswagen’s recent announcement to build a new SUV in Chattanooga would bring additional employment to the county.
Roane County Sheriff Jack Stockton and his opponent Jared Hall were both in attendance at the forum, and they expressed some significant differences on the issues.
When speaking about the county’s drug problem, Stockton said that the D.A.R.E. program, which brings officers into the classroom to educate children about the dangers of drug use, simply doesn’t work.
“It’s a proven fact,” said Stockton, who is running for his third term as sheriff.
Hall, on the other hand, mentioned several times that he believes “it’s important we start with the children.”
The candidates also had vastly different views on technology in the department.
Stockton called the Roane County Sheriff’s Department’s new system Emergitech, which officers are currently being trained to use ahead of its September implementation, “the best thing since sliced bread.”
But Hall, a Rockwood Police Department patrolman, thought a cheaper alternative would have been more economical and that the money saved would help to keep the office open 24 hours, which brought up another divisive issue. After Hall said 24-hour accessibility was important, Stockton responded by telling the audience “his office (Hall’s) closes before mine does,” and said that even though the office might be closed evenings and weekends, officers are on duty at all times and that the sheriff’s department is accessible through the dispatcher.
Circuit Court Judge
Both candidates for Ninth Circuit Court judge, Tom McFarland and Mike Pemberton, attended the forum.
During his introduction, Pemberton told the audience that he was voted “one of the top attorneys in the area” by the bar association and lawyers. McFarland introduced himself as “a fellow who’s grown up in Roane County.”
When asked how each candidate would ensure that justice isn’t denied to anyone in their courts, McFarland cited the importance of technology, saying he’d “like to see circuit courts go online.”
In his answer, Pemberton did not address technology, but said that it’s “important for the judges that we have be there, and stay there, until the work gets done.”
After Pemberton said that a judge should “sit there and rule” without letting personal convictions interfere with judgment, McFarland pointed out that he thought himself to be conservative and Pemberton to be a liberal. “You can’t check your ideology at the door,” said McFarland, who is currently Roane County attorney.
The current Circuit Court judge, Russell Simmons Jr., is retiring. The Ninth Judicial District is comprised of Loudon, Meigs, Morgan, and Roane counties.
Circuit Court Clerk
All three candidates for circuit court clerk—Ann Goldston, Marty Miles, and Sarah Stewart—attended the forum.
Goldston said that she currently works in the office and has the experience to know what’s needed for the office to transition to a new clerk after the election.
When asked how they would assure that records are made available quickly and reliably, all three of the candidates mentioned a need for employees to be cross-trained. Goldston called the current lack of cross-training “a disservice to the community.”
When the candidates were asked if they’d like to address any “major issues” if elected, Miles said he’d like to bring in an outside collections agency to address the “millions of dollars” that he said hasn’t been brought into the county through collections.
But Stewart and Goldston both had issues with the idea of bringing in an outside agency. Stewart said that there are already enough employees to make those collections, and she said that proper employee cross-training would allow those employees to do so.
In closing, Miles commended Goldston for her nine years of public service in the circuit court clerk office and said he’s been “in and out of that office” for 17 years, but alleged that Stewart has “walked up in that office maybe four or five times.” Stewart did not have the opportunity to respond to the allegations.
The current Circuit Court Clerk, Kim R. Nelson, is running for public defender. She is unopposed in that race after the death of the incumbent, Joe M. Walker. Walker was the first public defender in the Ninth Judicial District, and he had served since 1989.
Incumbent School Board member Sam Cox was the only school board candidate in District 3/4 to attend the forum. The district includes Oak Ridge.
Also at the forum, unopposed candidates for County Commission District 4, chancellor, criminal court judge, district attorney general, general sessions judges, county attorney, county clerk, trustee, and register of deeds were introduced.
Early voting began July 18 and continues through August 2. Roane County residents can vote early from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays at the First Christian Church at 100 Gum Hollow Road in Oak Ridge. Election Day is August 7.
See the Roane County Election Commission website for more information.