KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – All four Sullivan County mayoral candidates had a chance to make their pitch to voters at a candidate forum Thursday night.

The forum, hosted by the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, took place less than three weeks before the Republican primary.

Incumbent Mayor Richard Venable and current Sullivan County Commissioner Angie Stanley will face off in that race to determine the Republican candidate for the August election.

Independent candidates Val George and Bobby Weaver also participated in the forum.

Candidates were asked four random questions each. The questions were written by the chamber and provided to the candidates in advance.

News Channel 11’s Josh Smith moderated the forum.

Each candidate was asked about their thoughts on the newly-announced Northeast Tennessee Hub, a coalition of local employers working to market the region as one.

Venable said promoting the region to potential businesses starts with finding common ground across counties and cities.

“The most effective common ground is we’re a work-ready community, and tourism and entrepreneurship we got to work together on,” Venable said.

His challenger, Stanley, wants to use the hub to attract industry instead of retail business.

“We need more industry here, and we have a lot of land here in the region that we could use for economic development,” Stanley said.

George said it’s a positive for the region because private individuals are funding the hub.

“Something like this is great for our area that our tax payers do not have to pay for, yet private individuals are going out there and trying to bring in different businesses,” George said.

Weaver did not comment on the hub.

Venable and Stanley will face off in the Republican primary on May 3. They both stated their support for the county’s involvement in the regional drug treatment center planned to open at the former Roan Mountain Work Camp.

Stanley said it could help ease overcrowding concerns at the Sullivan County Jail. She said 90 percent of the jail’s population consists of non-violent offenders with drug or mental health problems.

“By opening up this facility, it will cut down tremendously on the recidivism and the jail overcrowdedness,” Stanley said.

Venable said the newly-approved jail expansion will help as well.

“This jail has been built to be expandable. We’re building 560 new beds to go with 614 current beds,” Venable said.

But the political opponents did not agree on everything Thursday evening. Stanley accused Venable of not keeping the county commission informed.

“Whenever we have commissioners calling out people about being transparent and to make sure that we have the information that we need to conduct our business to me is unacceptable,” Stanley said.

Venable responded by saying it is not his job to keep commissioners informed but said he will help gather data for commissioners when asked.

“If you’re an elected commissioner of Sullivan County, it’s your responsibility to be informed. It’s not the responsibility of the mayor to inform you of the issues,” Venable said.

Candidates were asked about several other topics including the size of the county commission, the county’s animal shelter and housing.