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Rotary Club holds forum for alderman candidates

Matthew Lane • Apr 3, 2019 at 8:30 PM

KINGSPORT – Quality of life, economic development and infrastructure concerns.

These issues were on the minds of Kingsport Rotary Club members Wednesday afternoon as they posed a series of questions to five of the candidates running for the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

Municipal elections in Kingsport, Bristol and Bluff City are taking place May 21. Until then various civic groups in Kingsport are holding forums for those running for mayor, aldermen and the Board of Education.

On Wednesday, the Rotary Club held its first forum of the election season for the candidates running for aldermen. Future ones will be held for the mayoral and BOE candidates.

Attending Wednesday’s forum was Darrell Duncan, Charles Honaker Jr., Chris Mills, Tommy Olterman and James Phillips. Along with introductions and closing remarks, each candidate was asked three different questions under the broad categories of quality of life, economic development and infrastructure.

Here’s what the candidates had to say about those issues:

DARRELL DUNCAN is a licensed Realtor, retired Eastman employee and former Kingsport alderman. He currently serves on six community boards and believes the best way to bring jobs to Kingsport is by continuing to work hard with the Kingsport Economic Development Board and NETWORKS – Sullivan Partnership.

“We need to continue to revitalize, renovate and retain our businesses downtown, spur interest in our kids who may not go to college, and get more people to choose Kingsport as their home,” Duncan said, later noting that the BMA could have up to four new members following this year’s election. “It’s easy to run and hide when you lose an election, but I continue to come back...go with someone who has experience, leadership and a voice of reason.”

When asked about paving in the Model City, Duncan pointed out how Kingsport now has a sustainable paving program where five times as many roads are being paved than just a few years ago, with 3,000 potholes filled this year.

“The most important pothole is the one you have to drive through every day. We have a mechanism to fix those too,” Duncan said. “Every city has potholes and I think with our program we are working on it. It just takes time and we have to be patient.”

CHARLES HONAKER JR is the owner of Millennium Auto Collision and is running to draw attention to the blue collar jobs in our community. He is currently working with the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing to start an apprenticeship program with collision shops and wants to helps kids coming out of high school get into a short-term program to help them land a job.

“As alderman I’m going to represent, listen to concerns, educate myself, and ask questions. Even the hard ones publicly,” Honaker said.

Honaker believes a downtown stadium would be a great asset for the city, referencing his family’s history with youth soccer and the many trips they took to other cities for events and tournaments. On the issue of sidewalks, Honaker gave a balanced answer.

“I think we need sidewalks, but there’s a few places where I disagree with where they’re going to be putting some,” he said. “I’ve got a plan where we actually need sidewalks on a busy side of town, where there aren’t any at all. It’s a big concern for me.”

CHRIS MILLS is originally from California and moved to our region in 1987 to attend Milligan College. After spending 20 years in the U.S. Military, he came back to Kingsport and is currently a maintenance worker at Wal-mart.

“In talking with customers and my fellow associates, I hear the gripes and the praises for Kingsport and I figured I would take that knowledge I’ve gathered and pass it on to the city government and the people of Kingsport,” Mills said. “I’m going to work on behalf of the voters who elect me, I will focus on issues they find important and hopefully be the representation they would be proud to have.”

When it comes to quality of life assets, Mills believes the Kingsport Greenbelt tops the list. Recruiting new businesses to town, Mills said the city should focus on small businesses while encouraging our young people to start their own business.

“To me, the most important project in the city is getting the roads fixed,” Mills said. “I understand the city is working on that after about a 10 year hiatus, but I think the continued work and effort would be important to our future, to bring the roads up to where everyone is happy with them.”

TOMMY OLTERMAN has served as a Kingsport alderman the past four years. His credentials include being a former Sullivan County commissioner, a staffer for former Congressman James Quillen, and a retired economic development specialist who worked for the State of Tennessee and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

“I’d like to see some projects come to an end, to complete the bank project (new city hall), to see (Brickyard Park) up and running and see us complete the east to west ends of the greenbelt,” Olterman said during his closing remarks. “There are so many more projects that we need to finish up on.”

Without a doubt, Olterman said Bays Mountain Park is the city’s biggest opportunity, noting that Kingsport has invested nearly $4 million in the park in recent years. When it comes to infrastructure needs, everyone needs to be “pulling the wagon in the same direction” and working together to meet those needs, he said.

“I think it’s a great thing when you can do public/private partnerships. You’ve got to have those because they stimulate so much more growth, when everybody is working together,” Olterman said.

Finally, JAMES PHILLIPS is a born and raised Kingsport native, small business owner and event organizer. He believes Kingsport has some great opportunities in front of it and that the city cannot allow itself to be defined by others and compared to others.

“I believe Kingsport has an incredible future in front of it. We’re a great city and we have to get positions so that when people are choosing East Tennessee, they’re choosing Kingsport,” Phillips said. “I’m running because I think I can make a positive impact on the city that I grew up in, got married in and now raising my daughter in.”

Phillips was asked about public/private partnerships, giving two good examples with Healthy Kingsport and Keep Kingsport Beautiful. However, Phillips noted that it’s not necessarily Kingsport’s job to create jobs, rather it’s to provide the atmosphere and climate where jobs can come and flourish.

As for healthcare, “I’m committed to making sure that we don’t go backwards, we have to go forward,” Phillips said. “I’m not going to grandstand and tell you if you vote for me I’m going to fix it. It’s way more complicated that the Board of Mayor and Alderman can do. But if I’m elected I’ll fight with everything I have to make sure we keep what we have right now.”

The final alderman candidate on the ballot is CHRISTOPHER BULLE, who works for Bank of Tennessee and is a member of Peak (Kingsport’s young professionals organization). Bulle was unable to attend Wednesday’s forum, but did submit a statement for the Rotarians, which was read prior to the questioning.

Bulle grew up in Kingsport, graduated from East Tennessee State University and noted that the difference in Kingsport from when he moved away for college and since coming back has been astounding, the statement read.

“I’d like to see more of my peers look at Kingsport and say ‘I want to stay’ instead of “I want to leave,” the statement read. “I want to see Kingsport thrive and I believe we can pick up on the positive development we’ve seen so far and help the city create sustainable growth that helps Kingsport for many years to come.”

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