By Chuck Hope
First of all, I want to say congratulations to Jim Dodson, Joe Lee, and Hans Vogel on being endorsed by the Chamber’s Progress PAC political action committee. I think it is important for the citizens of Oak Ridge to know that those three candidates are not the only candidates who support a vital economic development plan for Oak Ridge.
My community involvement has been extensive, serving on both the Chamber Board and the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the City’s Beer Permit Board before being appointed to Council. I was selected by a council majority in July 2011 to fill a vacated council seat and successfully ran for election in 2012. My vision for economic development is to continue to grow our retail sector while continuing to work harder on industrial growth opportunities. Growth like carbon fiber, whose industry is showing a lot of promise right now.
I want voters to know that I was the top vote-getter in my first election, and I am one of just a few Council members that have been on both the Chamber of Commerce Board (chairman in 2010) and City Council. I have been a businessman in Oak Ridge since 1982, and during the past 15 years, I have supported the City/Chamber contracts and aligned myself with what I thought to be the Chamber’s “mission, vision, and legislative priorities,” and worked closely with the Oak Ridge Board of Education.
On the Chamber Board, I was appointed to the Board of Directors, and was named the vice chair of organizational value, as well as serving on the Housing Advisory committee. In 2009, I was chair-elect and served on the board of Tech 2020 to gain the insight of that organization. In 2010, I became the chairman of the Board, working very closely with the president of the Chamber, Parker Hardy, and then interim City Manager Gary Cinder on the City/Chamber annual contract, updating it from a yearly contract to a three-year term contract with new measurables and a scope of work.
The PAC, which was established two years ago by the Chamber’s board is supposed to operate autonomously from the Chamber. Since its inception, the PAC sent a questionnaire to all candidates running for City Council and the Board of Education. As a candidate, the PAC welcomes you to participate in an interview process where they determine who they endorse for the available seats. Since I was not endorsed, I thought I would share some of my answers.
To the question of my vision for Oak Ridge over the next five years, I told them I believe that the city will build a new pre-K building and begin fulfilling the needs of our children in the city; open a new Senior Center providing the services that our senior citizens deserve and need; and find a permanent solution to our Water Treatment Facility that is both cost effective and efficient for us and our DOE partners. The city is finally turning the corner on our housing market and beginning to produce housing that is enticing for young families and young professionals who want to live here. We will have an airport that is almost finished and ready to bring more industry prospects to the doors of our city. As you can tell the next five years are going to be busy, but we can achieve all of this if we work together as a community.
The PAC committee asked about how to strengthen the relationship between the City Council and the School Board. I shared that I believe we need openness, commitment, and a willingness to listen on both sides of the issues. I believe we have made a lot of progress in this area. Like all relationships, it begins with communication. I respect all my counterparts on the Board of Education and consider them friends. I believe that the city manager and the school superintendent are working closely together on city/school issues and finding ways to reduce cost and pull together services that can save money.
When asked about my thoughts regarding the Chamber’s three-year strategic plan and 2016 Program of Work, I said I have served on the Chamber Board, and because I’ve been there with them, I can be honest in my assessment. The strategic plan is a good one, and the program of work is a good structure in which to achieve the results, but economic times and development is rapidly changing and we must be able to change with them if we want to continue to bring new growth to our community. The competition to recruit and retain new members of the Chamber is strong, and with businesses having choices to join different Chambers, the Anderson County Chamber is doing a good job recruiting small businesses into their ranks all across the county. We must do a better job of bringing small businesses into the Oak Ridge Chamber.
Over the past four years, we’ve had a significant shift in retail. Not even counting the Main Street project, with retail changing along the Turnpike and along Illinois, corridors are shifting along with the way Oak Ridgers seek out retail opportunities. I have attended about 100 ribbon-cutting ceremonies since I have been on Council, and would like to attend hundreds more over the next four years. I want them to be Oak Ridge Chamber members that we are coming out to support.
Both the City and the Chamber recognize that Oak Ridge housing is inadequate, so what steps would I take to build a stronger housing stock? I believe this is the single most important aspect of our city’s health and future. Our legacy housing is something we’ve worked hard on and continue to improve. We have recently won $3.5 million in grants to help legacy homes, and our Land Bank Program is really gaining momentum in our fight against blight across our community. We need to continue to find ways to entice and encourage new residents within the city; however, we have to be careful not to ask the Chamber to do things that are not in its wheelhouse. The city has done this in the past and the results were frustrating for both parties, so we need to identify what each of our capabilities are so we can coordinate our plans and work together to resolve this issue.
As for how I would enhance the relationship between the city and the Department of Energy, communication between these two entities is challenging because of the many pieces that are always changing. So communication channels have to remain open in order for DOE to meet its missions and the City to meet its mission. Personally, I have spent a considerable amount of time fostering this relationship as the Council’s choice to serve on the Energy Communities Alliance, or ECA. I ran for re-election to City Council so that I can continue to represent the city in such things as the ECA, which recently took me to Washington, D.C., to meet with Department of Energy officials and federal legislators, specifically to meet with David Klaus, under secretary for management and performance, where we discussed Oak Ridge’s national park status and water treatment plant upgrades.
About the relationship we share with the Chamber and other economic development organizations, I believe our alliance with the Chamber is a strong one but as Council we need to make sure our message is the same all across the spectrum of economic development organizations, one of our biggest challenges in Oak Ridge.
I have talked with numerous people during this process and answered hundreds and hundreds of questions. My door is open every day and since I’m the only incumbent in this race, I invite voters to look at my voting record and let me know if I have not represented this City in the most highly ethical and effective way. If you believe I have, I appreciate your vote. If you think I have not done this, then vote for the person you believe will do that in the years to come.
Chuck Hope is an Oak Ridge City Council member.
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