JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Two challengers with ties to the local Democratic Party will seek to claim spots on the Johnson City Commission in a race that also features incumbents Jenny Brock and John Hunter running for the two open positions. 

John Baker has lived in Johnson City since 2003, and Jay Emberton moved here in 2012 to teach military science at ETSU. Both qualified for the November blank election. 

Both men say they believe Johnson City is largely progressing on a positive path, but they say they bring skills and perspectives that they believe the current five-member commission lacks. For Baker, that is an intention to assertively represent the city’s low and moderate-income residents in a time of fast growth and quickly rising housing costs.

John Baker, who has served on several local city and non-profit boards, is running for Johnson City Commission in the Nov. 8 municipal election. (WJHL photo)

“I am excited to see the progress Johnson City has made,” Baker said. “My concern is that in all of this rush for progress that we don’t leave people behind.”

Emberton, who served 30 years in the Army as both an enlisted man and officer, said he believes the city needs a commissioner with strong crisis communication and leadership skills as growth creates some natural tension.

“When there’s conflict, when problems arise, that is the time specifically to keep a clear head, be able to communicate clearly and be able to make decisions on the fly,” said Emberton, who served four deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan working in military intelligence.

Baker, 70, moved to Johnson City after retiring from a career as a designer and served for a number of years on Johnson City’s Housing and Community Development Advisory Board, including a stint as its chairman. He began that role representing the West Davis Park neighborhood, which includes a number of lower-income or moderate-income residents.

“I don’t want to make it to where people can’t afford to live here,” he said. “That we make it so much progress that only the upper crust can live here, and I don’t think that makes a very viable city. It doesn’t give you a well-rounded city where you have people from all walks of life contributing to the city.”

Baker said making sure that Johnson City’s progress is shared across a broad spectrum of the city is the key reason that he is seeking a post with a high level of influence. In addition to his time, as an HCDAB member, Baker has also committed much of his volunteer efforts to the Pride Community Center of the Tri-Cities, of which he was a co-founder and is currently president.

In addition, he serves on the board of the Appalachian Regional Commission on Homelessness (ARCH).

Baker said a key perspective that he hopes to bring if elected was one that tries to ensure that the risks of people being priced out of living in a fast-growing city that’s become popular for people moving from other parts of the country where they’re able to sell their assets.

“Especially with the prices of rents going up and the idea that rents are sometimes doubling,” he said. “I have a lady that I know through ARCH that her rent went from $425 to $850. That pretty much takes her entire social security check.”

Baker talked about his desire for a diverse Commission. Asked about the fact that the current commission does include a black man, Aaron Murphy, and a woman, Brock, and that Murphy works in the nonprofit sector dealing with lower-income residents, Baker said he still doesn’t necessarily see the level of focus on those issues that he would like.

“I would like to see us take some of that tax money (from growth) and put it to those that are less fortunate in our area,” he said. “The working poor, the people that are living paycheck to paycheck. They may not have enough food, they may not afford gas. Their rents get so high that working two jobs each does not allow them to live here, and to me, that’s a detriment to the growth of the city.”

Army veteran and small business owner Jay Emberton is making his first run for public office in Nov. 8’s Johnson City Commission election. (WJHL photo)

Emberton, 54, said he believes the commission has created a strong climate for growth in Johnson City. But Emberton said he also has concerns about the benefits of that growth being spread across a broad segment of the population.

More than that, Emberton said he believes that the commission could do a better job of communicating to citizens in times of challenge and crisis. He believes those are likely to increase as the city deals with the pressures of fast growth.

Emberton, whose primary volunteer work since moving here has been with the local Democratic party, pointed to what he called a lack of sufficient communication about the lawsuit the city currently finds itself in over police handling of sexual assault cases. Very little of that communication has come from commissioners themselves.

“In times of challenge, it’s more important to keep the folks who are affected by that informed,” he said. “I believe that even when you’re limited on the things that you can say, there’s always something that can be said. Even just keeping people informed on what’s coming next, what has happened so far, what we intend to do next.

“There are things you can tell people that can help them understand why you can and can’t say those things and what you can expect in the future. It’s even more important when things aren’t going right to keep everybody as informed as possible.”

Emberton owns a home inspection business and continues to teach part-time at ETSU, where he said part of his job is helping cadets learn how to act calmly and assertively in times of crisis.

Both men will be were scheduled to appear at Tuesday night’s Washington County Democratic Party open meeting at the Jonesborough Visitors Center.

Current information about Baker’s campaign can best be found at his John Baker for Johnson City Commission Facebook page. Emberton has a website,, and a Jay for JC Facebook page.