Six candidates from two City Council races shared a stage before approximately two dozen voters Wednesday night to introduce themselves and state basic positions of their campaign platforms.
Candidates for Districts 1 and 2 participated in the forum, hosted by the Northside/Riverfront Community Association, in consort with the Hill City Association. Candidates participating from District 1 were Chip Henderson, Tom McCullough and Jim Folkner; candidates from District 2 who participated were Priscilla Simmons, Jerry Mitchell and Roger Tuder.
Prior to answering three questions by moderator Garnet Chapin, the candidates each gave brief biographies and offered summaries of their goals.
Asked what they could do to help the city save taxpayer money, several candidates suggested consolidating city and county services but did not specify which services they would opt to combine.
Simmons, a former city finance administrator, said she would seek to change the structure of the Department of Education, Arts and Culture and also examine where cuts or consolidations could be made to the General Services Department, along with offices for faith-based and multicultural initiatives.
"There are certainly plenty of places," she said.
Henderson, owner and operator of a private construction company, said he would look for areas where potentially smaller cuts could be made and hope that the total sum would be significant.
"When you talk about saving money, you do that like you eat an elephant—one bite at a time," Henderson said. "If you save $100,000 10 times, you've saved $1 million. And that's the way you have to look at it."
Candidates were also asked what steps they would take to improve safety in city neighborhoods.
Mitchell, a former city Parks and Recreation Department director, said he would commit additional funds and resources to the city's law enforcement officers and also seek to make up for what he saw as eight years of lower morale because of a lack of full support from the city.
"We need to help our officers and firefighters understand how well they're respected," Mitchell said. "I don't think they've been respected the last eight years, and we need to get back to show them how we care about the job they're doing for us."
McCullough, a former principal at Signal Mountain High School, said he would work to restore a provision that allowed officers to take their police cars home with them. McCullough said the initiative would expand law enforcement coverage in the city.
"This administration took away the take-home cars of about half the police department," he said. "We have essentially taken 200 boots off the street in that move."
When asked for their opinions on what arts and culture could do for the city and tourism, Tuder said he would be careful when considering how the city would fund public art for the city. The candidate added that he would support measures to increase tourist dollars.
"You've got to be careful there; you've got to get back to the basics again and our bare essential needs," Tuder said, referring to public art. "If you don't have good streets, you can't get to see the art."
Folkner said he would be a "huge proponent" of tourism, adding that he thought city time would be better spent debating high-dollar budget items rather than public art projects that often cost less.
"The problem that I see is epitomized best when City Council spends an hour and a half discussing a $30,000 art piece and two minutes on a million dollar tax," Folkner said.
Videos from the event will be posted on the Northside/Riverfront Community Association's Facebook page, Chapin said at the event's conclusion.
Early voting begins Feb. 13.
Municipal elections are March 5.
To read more about candidates from District 1 and 2 in the Keen Citizen voter guide, click here.