Candidates for county office gathered Tuesday night for a sparsely-attended forum sponsored by Bedford County Democratic Party.
Incumbent County Mayor Eugene Ray and his challenger, former Shelbyville Mayor Henry Feldhaus, made their cases, and Feldhaus had a tense exchange with county commission member Joe Tillett.
Feldhaus noted his background in business, particularly his ownership of First Ambulance Center of Tennessee, which he operated with his brothers.
"Anybody who says they want to run the city like a business," he said, "I'm it."
Feldhaus also noted the industries which came to Shelbyville while he was a city council member or city mayor, brought by companies like Calsonic Manufacturing Corp. (now CalsonicKansei North America), Paramount Packaging (now Bemis), and National Pen Corp.
"I've been able to attract thousands of jobs to this community while in elective office," he said. He said he'd dealt directly with CEOs about placing industries in spec buildings and said he has a long history of helping Bedford County Adult Education. He also pointed to the widening of U.S. 231 between Shelbyville and Murfreesboro.
He called on Ray to participate in debates with him between now and the May 4 primary election.
Ray, meanwhile, pointed to his own accomplishments.
"I'm running on my record," said Ray, who said he has spent 28 years on the county commission, most of it as chairman.
"I understand county government," he said.
He said the county mayor can accomplish nothing without a good relationship with the county commission. He said he has also worked to develop a good relationship between county and city governments.
Ray pointed to the county's adoption of the state Financial Management Act of 1981, which he personally championed, as a major achievement. That centralized county finances. He also cited the opening of Middle Tennessee Education Center, a satellite campus for both Middle Tennessee State University and Motlow State Community College.
Ray said the county, under his administration, has built three school buildings and three ambulance stations without a tax increase. He said county construction consultant Bud Melson has saved the county $1 million on school construction projects and half a million on the emergency medical services headquarters.
Following Ray's and Feldhaus' remarks, Bedford County Democratic Party chair Connie Crafton called for questions. Tillett asked Feldhaus if he had been promising raises to county employees if he was elected. Feldhaus denied that he had done so and then criticized Tillett for asking the question. Tillett then criticized Feldhaus for having taken credit for the widening of 231, noting the role of former State Rep. Clarence "Pete" Phillips.
Feldhaus said he'd explained that he was one of many who worked on those projects.
Crafton, at that point, stepped in and said that any further questions would need to be directed toward all candidates in a given race.
(T-G Photos by John I. Carney)
Challenger Rod Stacy said the department needs more.
"We have to progress from what we're doing now," said Stacy, who said Bedford County is becoming a bedroom community for Murfreesboro, resulting in changes for law enforcement. He said that as the economy improves and growth resumes, more big-city problems will move to Bedford County, requiring a new approach.
Stacy also stressed his long experience in law enforcement.
A visitor asked about the 287(g) program which allows the federal government to contract with local law enforcement agencies to enforce some aspects of immigration law. Boyce said the county applied for 287(g), as did Rutherford County, but the federal government is currently downplaying the program and it may be revamped. He said his department currently has a good working relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"The ICE people have been pretty good to us," said Boyce.
Incumbent Thomas Smith discussed the duties of the clerk's office and said his office stays up-to-date on its training. He said the only audit finding ever made against his office related to segregation of duties, a common finding for small organizations, and that he is currently working with county finance director Robert Daniel to find ways to comply with the audit requirements.
Challenger David Stemper said the county needs a greater emphasis on courthouse security, said the county is the only county in the state except for much-smaller Trousdale County without security controls. He said metal detectors and key card access should be installed. He said he wanted to bring in-house some collections currently being outsourced to a Columbia firm, and transfer Circuit Court funds from their current bank to the bank which the county uses under a bid process.
"I understand the importance of accuracy," she said.
She said a state law which allows counties to freeze property tax for low-income senior citizens needs more study.
She also supported the idea of allowing citizens to pay their property tax online.
Jason McGee said the trustee's office should offer more services; he, too, supported online payment.
McGee noted his government experience working in the office at Bedford County Highway Department. He said he supports additional tax relief for senior citizens above what is already provided by the state.
County Clerk Kathy Prater and Register of Deeds Johnny Reed, both of whom are unopposed for re-election, also spoke, talking about their office's duties and thanking voters for their support.