One county commission seat appears on the general election ballot: a seat representing District 3, to fill the vacancy created by the death earlier this year of Commissioner Roger Brothers. Brothers' widow Janice was appointed to fill the seat on an interim basis until the next general election; now, she and former commission member Gale Barber are competing to finish Roger Brothers' term.
The Times-Gazette asked the two candidates the same three questions. Here are their responses.
Hospital and nursing home
1) What do you think the county should do with the old hospital and nursing home?
BARBER: Either use it or sell it. My first preference would be to utilize the first floor of the hospital as an addition to the nursing home, and the second and third floor as an assisted living quarters. We have numerous elderly residents that really could use this. They are the people that built our county and we should do what we can to accomodate them at a reasonable price.
BROTHERS: At this time, keeping the old hospital building is not feasible due to the costs that would be required to get this building up to codes. The county's money can be better spent on services that the taxpayers need instead of trying to fix a building that may or may not bring any revenue into the county. Hospitals and nursing homes are projects that are very dear and near to my heart.
The nursing home holds a very special place in my heart as my husband's sickness over the past four years has opened my eyes to the importance that this facility gives not only to our elderly, as well as other citizens of Bedford County who have the need for the rehabilitation services that the nursing home provides after stroke, heart attack, dialysis, etc. As your commissioner, I want the elderly to have the best care possible without placing the burden on the taxpayers. If we can keep the nursing home open with the best quality care while providing revenue into the county, I would like for the county to maintain control. If this is not feasible, I feel that we should look for someone who is very knowledgeable in operating a nursing home that provides superior care and would be interested in purchasing it from the county with the understanding that its use is for providing elderly care. Our seniors deserve a place to be cared for, but we must make sure it can cash flow on its own so it doesn't become a burden on taxpayers.
2) How can the county retain trained employees in its current tight fiscal situation?
BROTHERS: We must tighten our belts and look for ways to save money in areas that don't affect the salaries and benefits of our great employees and trained personnel. I commend all of these employees for the wonderful job that they are doing for Bedford County. Just as your family is tightening their budget, the county must do the same. These rough economic times will not last forever and their services will be remembered when the economy improves. On behalf of the citizens of Bedford County, I want to thank you for wonderful services that you provide.
BARBER: My first thought would be to research healthcare benefits, and to ensure equal benefits with all employees. My second thought would be to form an independent Human Resources committee compiled of non-elected officials. Any employee terminating their employment with the county should have an exit interview by this committee. This committee could also receive suggestions and complaints from county employees and file a monthly report to the county commission. Before you can solve problems (you have to know what the problem is), an employee should be allowed to address his/her issues (with the HR committee) without feeling intimidated of being terminated. I am of the opinion this could be a major factor in retaining employees.
3) What other issues do you feel the county needs to address and what should be done about them?
BARBER: 1. Jobs -- The county needs to be more involved in recruiting industry into Bedford County. As of this date, this has been handled by the city and Chamber of Commerce.
2. Retail Business -- We must build an industrial base before we will be able to recruit the retail business that is really needed for this county. We have many citizens having to travel out of the county for employment, and this is where they make and spend their money. We must get away from being "the bedroom community" concept. We must secure more revenue through jobs and retail business and not depend on property taxes. We should also work with people that want to build small businesses in our county. We have too many empty buildings that could be utilized as ideal locations for entrepreneurs.
3. Education -- I feel we have progressed tremendously with our children's education, but have not kept up with adult education. This has become a very fast and changing world, and we are competing in a global society. We need to access the needs for computer training for the "older" generation. As an example before my retirement from Alcan, I had to travel to other states to receive the computer training (which was not available locally) which I needed for my job.
4. Wasteful spending -- in the current tight fiscal situation, we must look for any wasteful spending and take corrective action. I hear complaints daily of what the taxpayers are calling wasteful spending.
BROTHERS: Bedford County is the fifth fastest growing county in Tennessee. Due to this growth, I feel that the county needs to continue to plan for growth in agricultural, commercial, and industrial. As we grow, we must keep our educational system in the forefront where it will continue to provide our children and our grandchildren with the best quality education from preschool years through college years. We need to continue to seek out and encourage more retail stores into our county where our tax dollars will remain in our county.