County executive candidates, from left, Wes Hixon, Cliff Auman and incumbent
“Vote on Tuesday.”
That was a theme repeated rather emphatically by several of the candidates participating in Saturday night’s last-minute political debate hosted by local TV/radio station KWN. Remember, they said, the presidential election may not be until November but in for-all-practical-purposes-one-party Dade County, the May 24 Republican primary is the end of this political season.
All but one of the candidates, Tax Commissioner Jane Moreland, this year are running as Republicans, and she is unopposed. Thus of the four contested county races, all will be decided on Tuesday unless runoffs are necessary. Voters staying home until the “big” election could be fatal to a candidate’s hopes.
So vote already, they repeated. “If you don’t use your rights, you will lose them,” quoted Cliff Auman, one of the candidates for county executive
As for other motifs, what was most striking about the May 21 event, held at KWN’s studio on Highway 11 North, was that even in tiny, rural Dade, the times, they are a-changin’. Though zoning is still a sensitive subject, candidates now seem able to say the Z-word without clutching crucifixes, making hand signs against the Evil Eye, or looking furtively for an evacuation route. And whereas nobody is yet popping beers at meet-the-candidate picnics, the longstanding taboo against alcohol is weakening to the point that most candidates said voters should themselves decide whether alcoholic beverages may be served by the drink in the unincorporated county.
The zoning issue turnaround first surfaced in the debate between incumbent district 4 commissioner Allan Bradford and challenger Jamey Blevins. District 4 includes the affluent Lookout Mountain neighborhoods from which land-use ordinance proposals have sprung in years past only to be shot down by Dade’s monolithic opposition. So perhaps it should not have been surprising that both candidates for that seat came out—cautiously—in favor of—limited—land use guidelines
Dade doesn’t have to go as far as Chattanooga has zoning-wise, assured Blevins, asked first. “That’s not needed,” he said. But yes, he said, some restrictions are necessary.
And Bradford, rather than rebutting, agreed that Dade does need some land use management. “I get calls every day,” he said. Also, he said, how about some animal control? He gets calls about dogs running loose, too.
Of the three candidates for county executive, Wes Hixon came out most positively in favor of zoning, as he has before, though he was careful to make it clear he’s talking more about disallowing big property-value-destroying blights like garbage dumps than dictating the maximum height of lawn grass.
Cliff Auman said any land use restrictions should be well defined as opposed to vague or open-ended, and that in any case they should not be imposed without voter input.
Two-term incumbent Ted Rumley came out most squarely against zoning—“I’m not for it. We are an agricultural county”—but even he had to qualify that some ordinance would be required in connection to the expansion of the existing sewer system. If not, “That could open up some very bad things,” said Rumley.
The County Executive Race
In the debate among the three candidates for executive chairman of the Dade County Commission, effectively the head of county government, eight-year incumbent Ted Rumley repeatedly stressed his experience and reputation. “You know me,” he said.
“I know the people.”
“There’s not a piece of equipment in the county I cannot operate. I’m a working commissioner.”
“I give it all I’ve got.”
Younger candidate Cliff Auman challenged the status quo on several issues:
“I think we have a problem in our county confusing our wants and our needs,” he said, discussing roads.
Why are we not utilizing the Four Fields to bring in out-of-town competition and tourism, he asked. “If we have to spend a few dollars to bring in a lot of dollars, let’s do it.”
Should Dade look at combining its 911 center and sheriff’s department? he asked. “I feel like a restructuring might be necessary in our government,” said Auman.
As for big-game hunter and safari purveyor Wes Hixon, he reiterated that he does business “on all but two of the major continents” and he was certainly all over the globe Saturday night. He—
proposed a one-cent local option sales tax increase, a $25 fee for allowing cyclists to ride through the county, and a business license fee for Antique Alley yard salers—“They’re blocking traffic all day for three days”;
claimed he had a road-construction buddy who could pave the road up Sand Mountain for $300,000, give or take;
and alluded mysteriously to a secret audit of the county government made by an independent accounting firm; he had the name of the firm, said Hixson, but refused to divulge it.
Cliff Auman said Hixon’s levy on bicyclists was a no-go. “They wouldn’t be here at all,” he said At least now, he added, they buy gas and Mountain Dew. Ted Rumley pointed out the county is audited every year.
All three candidates expressed concern about roads and infrastructure. “It seems all the roads need improving,” said Hixon, but said he didn’t want to put more of a burden on the taxpayer. Auman pointed out the county spent money on an awning for the courthouse and let roads go. Rumley was able as incumbent to say, “We’ve been aggressively attacking the roads,” and explain how the work was paid for. “There’s very little property tax that goes into your roads,” he said. He was also able to brag, on the subject of costs, that the county has cut every year and that it works on budget practically every day. “We’re very tight with the county’s money—and people who keep up with it know that,” he said.
Hixson has attended no county commission meeting since declaring his candidacy. Auman has attended all. Rumley has presided over them.
All three candidates said voters should choose whether Dade will have liquor by the drink. Hixon said it would help the economy. Personally, though, Rumley said he wouldn’t vote for it himself; Hixon said he thought it would help the economy; and Auman said his feelings were unimportant, it was for the people to decide.
In their closing statements, Auman and Rumley both urged supporters to vote; Rumley reminded voters of his history of service; and Hixon (after asking for the question to be repeated), again ranged freely, expressing a desire to bring a Publix Market to Dade, reminding the audience he’d been placed on a regional industrial development panel by Congressman Tom Graves, stating, “I don’t need the job,” and adding that if he got it anyway: “I promise you I will not use any part of this office for my personal gain or my family’s personal gain.”
Asked after the debate if he had time to be county executive, which is a full-time-or-better job, Hixson said yes, that the plan if elected was to give his company to his employees and devote his time to running the county. Asked if that’s what he wanted to happen, Hixon said he didn’t know.
To be Continued …
See Part 2 of this article for the Sheriff’s, Coroner’s and District 4 Commissioner’s Races.