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published on 10/23/2002

Meet the Candidates Night- TWO

By staff writer

The second meeting of the candidates running for Signal Mountain Town Council was held Tuesday, October 22 at the Alexian Village Town Hall. Resident’s Association President, Paul Nolan who was to preside over the meeting is recovering from surgery at Erlanger Hospital. He and wife, Ann, were missed by all. Moderator for the meeting was Jed Mescon, Signal Mountain resident and television host on WRCB, Channel 3.

As at the first meeting on October 15 at MACC, each candidate was given five minutes to tell something about themselves and/or their platform. The order of speaking was by random drawing. After the presentations questions were presented to the candidates from members of the audience.

The first candidate to speak was Mayor Jim Althaus. The Mayor thanked everyone and introduced his wife, who was in the audience. He gave a synopsis of his life and assured everyone that Signal Mountain is “the greatest place to live.” Although the programs he mentioned at the last forum were important, he said he did not want to go through each of them but wanted to stress to everyone how important these programs are. He feels that it is vitally important that the members of the Town Council have experience and bring that experience to the bigger community i.e. Hamilton County and State of Tennessee. It is important that the Town of Signal Mountain be heard, according to the Mayor. He is not happy with some of the issues some of the candidates have and feels that they are misleading the public.

Bill Leonard was the next to speak. Bill is a veteran of the Viet Nam War serving as a Navy officer. He understands and appreciates the privilege of voting. He thanked everyone in the audience especially those members of “the greatest generation” for coming to the forum. Having lived on the mountain for 25 years, 18 in the Town of Signal Mountain, Bill is dedicated to continuing the high quality of life on Signal Mountain. He feels it is a “beacon” to the larger community and wants that to continue. He supports open communication between the community and the town government, and invited everyone to read his brochure, which includes his platform.

The next candidate to speak was Joe Dumas. Joe moved to Signal Mountain 10 years ago and has a faculty position at UTC. He shared a little about his life and feels that he is now in a position to give back to the community. He would like to keep the tax rates low, promote better bicycle and pedestrian safety, use his position on the Town Council to work with the county officials in getting a high school on the mountain, and would like to work closely with the citizens. He recognized his wife and three other women in the community who support him and who he admires. He said this campaign is not about politics but whether or not a person can do the job.

Jason Farmer began by thanking Dr. and Mrs. Nolan for arranging the evening. He grew up on Signal Mountain and pointed out to the residents from Alexian Village that his first job was in the Evergreen Room where he made friends with many of the residents. He explained that he is running this campaign with Robert White and what this means is simply that he endorses Robert and would be proud to serve on the Council with him as they share they same values and commitment to the Town. Jason addressed several important issues like accountability for tax dollars, responsible leadership, a high school on the mountain, and protecting the fire and police departments. He would like to improve recreation for all ages especially the facilities and hiring a full-time recreation department head. He praised the former council members for the Open Space Land Development Plan that is being implemented as well as Scott Cook for the great job he has done as the current part-time recreation department head. Jason reminded everyone that he is a “Signal Mountain Boy” – grew up here and has a long-term interest in living and staying on the mountain – and in keeping the traditions.

The last candidate to speak was Robert White. Robert lives a few doors from Alexian Village with his wife and three sons. He has lived on the mountain for 18 years, 11 in the Town of Signal Mountain. With a business management background, he has a vision of Signal Mountain as a model community. He has the same work ethic and vision as Jason Farmer and endorses Jason as a candidate. Robert would like to see the Town run as a business by doing a better job taking care of our fire and police departments, pointing out that the Town recently lost one of its policemen because of cut-backs in benefits. Another important issue to Robert is the high school. His hope is that people will come together as a mountain to make this happen. He closed by thanking Mayor Althaus, Dr. Billy Steele, and Dr. Robert Steel for their hard work as Councilmembers.

There were many questions asked during the next hour. Here are a few:

Bill Leonard was asked about his service to his country and how he would apply what he learned to serving on the Town Council to which he responded by saying leadership experience.

Someone questioned the Mayor about a broken promise – a guard rail along Mississippi Avenue to which to the Mayor responded by noting that the town manager, Hershel Dick was present and would duly note the fact that the rail was never built.

Another person questioned the incorrect sample ballot printed in the Times Free Press. The Mayor responded by telling the audience of how he caught the mistake and called town attorney Phil Noblett who in turn called Fran Dzik from the Election Commission who corrected the ballots. Joe Dumas also responded by saying he had gone to the Election Commission and seen the newly printed ballots.

One question to Joe Dumas about his affiliation with the Libertarian Party prompted a lengthy debate between members of the audience as well as comments from the candidates. Joe feels that this is a non-partisan campaign and what political party he belongs to is not an issue. The Mayor disagreed saying that it “shapes the man.” Robert White also stated that he had a problem with Joe’s affiliation with the party. Joe responded by questioning the campaign funds received by one of the candidates from the Chattanooga Association of Realtors to which Jason Farmer responded as he is the only candidate who is a member of that association, saying that he is proud of his membership and the fact that they chose to support him.

After the Mayor said he was afraid of Libertarians, a member of the audience pointed out that the Mayor had fought in Korea for freedoms and one freedom we as Americans have is the freedom of choice and she supported Joe’s right to be Libertarian just as the Mayor proudly announced he is a Republican. She also asked Jason Farmer how he would correct the inequities in the girls recreation facilities compared to the boys, on the mountain. Jason responded by pointing out the benefit of having a full-time recreation department to make sure these inequities don’t happen.

A question about the future growth on the mountain was asked. The Mayor responded by reminding everyone of the “awful” State-mandated 20/20 Growth Plan; pointing out that there is only a small area of undeveloped land left within the Town of Signal Mountain so it can only grow by annexation in a few years. Joe Dumas pointed out that growth can’t be stopped but make sure it’s done right. Jason Farmer added that current building restrictions including sewer/septic tank issues might hinder growth. Like the others, Bill Leonard said he was against high-density growth. Robert White said he agreed with what had been said but added that growth needed to be done right, and paid attention to.

A homeschool parent expressed concern that the candidates, all of whom support a high school on the mountain, seem to support taxing the residents to finance a school. The question was asked how each of the candidates felt the council should support the high school. The general consensus was to keep pressure on the Hamilton County Commissioners, the School Board and support our county commissioner, Dr. Richard Casavant and Chip Baker who serves on the School Board. It was also pointed out that several of the candidates sit on the Friends for a Signal Mountain High School committee which meets regularly and is working hard to see this happen. Robert White added that if even after all the pressure has been applied and the County refuses to support a high school on the mountain then the people should have the choice to make it happen by voting in a referendum to raise the taxes.

The debate continued between Joe Dumas and the Mayor over issues that each disagreed on including the budget, taxes, and town employees.

The question was asked to the candidates, each who have expressed a desire to better communicate with the people, how they saw this happening. Robert White responded by saying the town needed a web site, and if it wasn’t going to happen then it needed to find some way to plug into the Signal Mountain web site ( Residents needed to be able to pay bills online as well as recreation fees. Bill Leonard added that more open meetings like the forum for the candidates with Councilmembers should be used and Town Council meetings should be brought to the citizens at Alexian for example at least once a year. Joe Dumas agreed and said a Town newsletter would not cost that much.

There were many other comments, complaints, and compliments. However, the forum ended on a good note. After Jed Mescon thanked everyone for attending, the candidates, and Alexian Village for hosting the forum, Jason Farmer made an announcement. He urged everyone running for Town Council to spend the rest of the campaign in a positive manner that would reflect positively on the community. With cheers and applause from the audiance, the meeting ended. Refreshments were served in the foyer.
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