JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — Early voting starts this week in Tennessee and there are several key races across the region.
On Friday, you can vote in the primary for state and federal elections and in the county general election.
In Washington County, Republican incumbent Mayor Joe Grandy is seeking a second term while James Reeves is running against him as an independent.
“In my case, it’s easier to vote that ‘R guy’ that’s got the Republican next to his name over the incumbent,” Reeves said. “Now you have what I call the ‘millionaire club’ and I did run against Joe Grandy four years ago as an independent.”
The two also vyed for the seat back in the 2018 election.
“We don’t want to make Washington county like Washington DC. We want to keep it local, we want to keep it controlled and we want to keep it conservative,” said Grandy.
After Grandy’s narrow victory in May 2018’s three-candidate primary, Reeves captured 48.2% of the vote in the August general election, garnering 8,649 votes to Grandy’s 9,293.
Reeves also ran for mayor in 2010, when Dan Eldridge won the first of two terms. That year he ran in the Republican primary instead of as an independent, finishing third with 14% of the vote.
“The people should actually have control over their government but this particular government hasn’t been in control since 12 years ago,” Reeves said.
Reeves says he wants to work on what he calls the “disconnect” between the county and Johnson City as well as the other governing bodies it helps to fund.
“That face of the county should show up to some city meetings and say, ‘Here I am. I’m here.’ When something’s going on in the county, well the city’s in the county – school board meetings – it’s the biggest part of our budget, is the schools,” Reeves explained.
Grandy hopes to continue working on economic development for the county.
“We’ve gained almost a thousand jobs over the last four years. We’ve attracted two really great businesses to the community that are building out at the industrial park today and we’ve had some really excellent local business expansions,” Grandy said. “Having the private sector engage in economic development is really critical and it’s really great for the taxpayers because that’s less taxpayer money that has to go into that effort. Economic development is critical to keeping costs low in the market, and to keeping property taxes in the market. If we’re not growing which was the case if you look back eight to nine years. In order to provide the same service, somebody’s got to pay for it.”
Regionalism is another top priority for Grandy.
“I’ve spent a lot of time over the last three years and 10 months working with other mayors and other individuals in the community helping to build a regional platform where we are able to market Northeast Tennessee, Appalachian Highlands, as a region with over half a million people as opposed to trying to market it as a county of 133,000,” said Grandy. “Marketing the region in a larger way will bring all counties in Northeast Tennessee, Appalachian Highlands region up and being more progressive and having better opportunity to attract new business.”
Reeves says he wants to focus on the county first.
“You question, ‘Why are we giving so much of a chunk to say the airport?’ I get the airport and I get that it needs to be bigger and it would be great in economic impact and this and that…it’s still not in our county,” Reeves said.
Reeves also wants to take a different approach to school funding than what’s been done in the past.
“They’re using the tax money they do take and building schools we probably didn’t need to build. We could’ve used that money to increase teacher salaries…make it better for the children that a mayor is responsible over in the county,” said Reeves.
Reeves says he would have handled the Jonesborough K-8 School project differently, where the town of Jonesborough will take out bonds to build a new school while the county rents it until it’s paid off. He believes the plan was not fair to Johnson City Schools.
“I as county mayor, I’m responsible for every student in this county,” Reeves said.
Grandy says the deal is fair, and Johnson City will get their share.
“They’re going to get a great school over there for roughly half of the cost what it would’ve taken to do it in the traditional fashion so I think that really works out well,” Grandy said. “The city of Johnson City is getting a nice agreement which is exactly the amount of money they would have received had the Jonesborough school been renovated as was the original plan.”
Reeves also criticized Grandy’s handling of the noisy Bitcoin mine situation in Limestone that got the county involved in a lawsuit with its operator, RedDog, and BrightRidge.
“As it went down and people started complaining about the noise, he just sat in the corner and didn’t lead,” Reeves said. “If you don’t know something and something happens, you get ahead of it as a leader and you say, ‘Alright guys I might’ve been wrong here, maybe I didn’t know it was going to be this noisy and we’ve got problems, let’s fix this together and it didn’t happen.'”
In response, Grandy said: “It was presented to commissions, planning commission, county commission and everyone had the exact same information so the fact that this Bitcoin group went into a quiet part of the community and created noise and disturbance for those people was unexpected and truly unfortunate.”
Whoever wins, though, will have to work with the 15 county commissioners voted in.
“The commission really took a bold move this year to take a look at our personnel and be sure we were doing the things that we needed to do from a salary perspective for our personnel to keep our best and our brightest public servants,” Grandy said. “We set goals and objectives and they lined up real nicely with some things that I had some interest in. We worked together on improving workforce. We worked together on developing the additional extensions of water lines in the county.”
Although he hasn’t been a commissioner, Reeves says he has been going to the meetings for the last 14 years and has been involved.
“I still have a lot of respect I pull in the room. There’s a lot of people that understand I give that alternate point of view because a lot of time the mayors and commissioners want a particular kind of thing and they don’t want to hear the other point of view sometimes,” Reeves said. “It’s the leadership that’s got to give the whole story and then it’s up to the commission to ask the questions and we don’t have the commissioners that can or will or they have an assumption that they’re getting the truth but they’re certainly not getting the whole truth.”
Both Grandy and Reeves said they are concerned about voter turnout…especially since it has only decreased in the recent elections…including the primary back in May.
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