Spring may not be in the air yet, but election fever is. Candidates on the ballot for the May 1 county primary have started showing up in South Knoxville, trying to convince voters of their worthiness.
The first harbinger popped up at County Commissioner Carson Dailey’s monthly constituent meeting on Feb. 27. West Knoxvillian Ronnie Rochelle, who’s seeking the commission’s at-large Seat 10, came to Dailey’s event at Love That B-B-Q to introduce himself.
The floodgates opened this week. The South Knoxville Alliance hosted a meet-and-greet at Dogwood Elementary School on Monday for candidates running for county mayor and sheriff. On Tuesday, South Knoxville’s school board incumbent, Amber Rountree, and her challenger, Kristi Kristy, sounded off at the South-Doyle Neighborhood Association meeting. And on Thursday, Rountree visited the Colonial Village Neighborhood Association’s monthly meeting.
The SKA event drew 100 percent of the sheriff candidates – Tom Spangler of South Knoxville and Lee Tramel of West Knoxville. The mayoral candidates did not have perfect attendance, however. Democrat Linda Haney and Republicans Brad Anders and Bob Thomas appeared, but Republican Glenn Jacobs sent Bryan Hair as his representative, and Democrat Rhonda Gallman didn’t show.
The opioid epidemic was on the minds of the sheriff candidates. Tramel, who has served under three sheriffs and is now chief of administration for the sheriff’s office, said there had been 14 overdose deaths and 27 burglaries in the past 90 days in South Knoxville. “I believe if we cut the addiction, we cut the crime.” He touted the new Behavioral Health Center and said, “We have to change the way we think about incarceration.” He said the sheriff’s office is “making great strides.” One of his plans is to start a work camp.
Spangler, a 36-year law-enforcement veteran who was interim sheriff in 2007, has served as training director for both the Knox and Blount counties sheriff’s offices. His priority as sheriff is the security of homes, schools and businesses. He said officers are assigned to every school but may cover two or three, and he wants one at every single school. He said his approach to dealing with the opioid crisis is to “enforce, educate and treat.” He vowed that he “will not forget the victims of the crimes they (drug abusers) commit.”
The mayoral hopefuls also shared some themes, though not all. Thomas and Jacobs’ spokesman, Hair, both emphasized the importance of keeping taxes low, while Anders and Haney didn’t address the subject.
Thomas, current at-large county commissioner and a local media veteran, said he wanted to “celebrate education” and make the teacher awards the biggest night of the year; help children find their path in life, including making them aware of vocational options; take better care of veterans and senior citizens; and bring in more business to Knox County, especially by keeping taxes low.
Anders, a current county commissioner, is on leave of absence from the Knoxville Police Department’s special crimes unit. The three things he is going to work on, he said, are the opioid crisis; economic development and workforce development (he wants to create a technical high school in Knox County); and improving the county’s customer service.
Jacobs, famed for his stature as a professional wrestler, owns both insurance and real-estate businesses locally. Hair said Jacobs wants to keep taxes low, offer more career and technical education and bring more jobs into the county. Jacobs finds the homeless problem inexcusable, especially in the case of veterans, and wants to eradicate it. As for the opioid epidemic, Hair said Jacobs believes, “The longer we ignore it, the worse it’s going to get.”
Haney, who has worked in a number of fields and is a proud retired union member, said she wanted to step up and run for Democrats and women. She wants to emphasize education and pay teachers well; address infrastructure issues like pothole-ridden roads; pay deputies properly so they don’t have to work a second job; and deal with the opioid crisis. She also believes that “the county needs to be cleaned up, if we want people to come here.” She said, “We can’t be cheap; we have to do all these things.”
At the SDNA meeting, Kristy said she became involved with the PTA when her triplets were at Bonny Kate Elementary and continued as they moved through South-Doyle middle and high schools. Now that they have graduated, she wants to continue to serve. “Our schools in this district don’t seem to have the things that the other schools have. We don’t have the same facilities, we don’t have the same programs, we don’t have the same curriculum.”
Kristy cited the loss of programs at the high school, including driver’s education, and said that while South Knoxville’s population is growing, there has been no discussion of accommodating an increased number of high school students.
Rountree, a former school librarian who is working on her Ph.D., is wrapping up her first term as the District 9 rep on the Knox County Board of Education and her second year as its vice chair. She emphasized the achievements in which she has played a role, including the creation of a 21st-century learning space at the SDHS library, and touted CTE programs such as Ride and Decide, which offers paid summer trade internships.
She said she has been investigating and will continue to work on better solutions for school safety throughout the district and traffic patterns at SDHS, problems that Kristy brought up. Rountree said she wants to emphasize early literacy and expand the community schools program to more SoKno schools in her second term. Rountree shared a similar spiel with Colonial Village residents at their Thursday meeting.
There are plenty of candidates to go around for all the offices, but Kristy addressed the real problem South Knoxville has at election time.
“People don’t vote,” she said. “It would be great to be the district that everybody showed up to vote in, regardless of who you vote for.”