Council seats at stake Tuesday

Friday, April 29, 2011

The five candidates in Lewisburg's Tuesday election have taken positions on cemetery rules and sewer rates, but when asked to select any topic, three of them said employment is a major concern.

Ward 1 candidates Bob Christoph, Jeff Henson and Steve Thomas, and Ward 5 candidates Robin Minor and Jeff Payne were polled this week. Thomas, Minor and Payne said the economy is the important issue.

Emotional appeals have been made to return to previous cemetery rules on how graves may be decorated. A persistent campaign was waged to change a fee system charging for sewer service where a water customer uses a septic tank. Both issues have consumed a great deal of the council's attention. Neither is resolved.

Jobs was the issue cited by three of five candidates when asked to state what's important.

Thomas would "encourage our industry as best we can" to enhance Lewisburg's economy, he said. "We need jobs in Lewisburg, especially with existing employers."

He sees a "fallacy" among economic development policies. "What's going on is the investment in going fishing when we should look locally."

Keeping the city attractive and having better schools to enhance the job market are "not real sexy" issues, Thomas said.

Stability in city leadership is important, too. "We will struggle without corporate memory."

"Jobs are always important," Minor said. How to increase them? "We need to get somebody in the spec-building" that's owned by the city that built it on speculation it could be sold to an employer.

Referring to the city's industrial recruiter, Minor said, "I think Greg [Lowe] will do a bang-up job given time." Lowe's predecessor was fired. He complained to federal officials about age discrimination. Cost cutting and no sale of the spec building were implied as reasons for dismissal.

"Lewisburg needs jobs," Payne said, citing "one of the worst unemployment rates in the state."

Lewisburg "should establish an initiative to support local business" he said. "Let's keep Lewisburg's money in Lewisburg.

"Ironically, Marshall County shares borders with three of the most prosperous counties in the state: Williamson, Rutherford, and Lincoln.

"The City Council should establish a forum to meet and share ideas with city and county leaders in these counties to discover what these counties are doing differently," Payne said.

Henson said voters are telling him the chief issue is cemetery rules. Christoph said the council needs to be more diligent about communicating with residents.

Rules on how graves may be decorated in city cemeteries were changed nearly a year ago. When they were implemented as mowing season started this spring, decorations were removed, prompting complaints and well-attended City Hall meetings on a plan to reset some of the rules. A third and final vote comes after the election and after Mother's Day, the traditional Decoration Day here, complete with the perennial blooming of peonies.

Predictably, most candidates qualified their positions, as did Thomas who agrees "with everyone that we all grieve individually," but he would have voted against resetting some rules, like Councilman Stewart who he might succeed since she's not running again.

Cemetery maintenance is a concern and survivors should be considerate of the tastes of other families, so some regularity is worthwhile, he said.

An outline and decorative stones were placed over Henson's brother's grave, but removed by county jail trusties on city directions since workers weren't being paid by a grant this year. Henson says, "Leave the grave decorations alone."

Christoph "would tend to support" rules to make mowing easier, but people ought to display things they like "as long as it doesn't interfere," he said.

Minor took a similar stance: "You should be able to put whatever you wish ... as long as it doesn't interfere." Furthermore, "I've never heard a complaint from the men who are doing the mowing and I've talked to Kenny Ring," the superintendent over the mowing crews.

Payne said the amendment -- as first introduced by Minor --"is inadequate as it does not sufficiently address the interests of the people affected by this issue." Payne supports a suggestion to send the amendment to the Cemetery Board where the public could be heard and "give the Cemetery Board an opportunity to rework the rules.

As for sewer fees charged when a water customer doesn't have an active sewer tap because a septic tank is working,

Christoph did "not know enough of the details," but said, "A fee is levied for a service rendered. If it's a fee, it shouldn't be for a service you're not getting."

Henson asked, "Why would you charge someone for something if they don't have it?"

Thomas sad, "What's being charged is to encourage taps onto the system, and it increases resale values... They didn't force anybody to buy a tap. I know of cities that require a tap... for use." Everybody pays for the pipes that are for the greater good.

Minor: "There should be an access fee, but it shouldn't be based on a percentage of your water bill." It's "crazy" to charge a rate resulting in a variable price if a building isn't putting anything into the sewer.

Payne: "The ... council has no power to act on this ... without a resolution from the [utility]. It would be productive if the ... council and [utility] could work together to address the concerns of the people affected."