Editor’s Note: Candidates Jim Bethune, Jacky Cagle and Denny Manning chose not to participate for this article.
Early voting for the East Ridge Municipal Election begins on Wednesday, October 17 and runs through November 1. In an effort to help East Ridge voters make an informed decision when casting their ballots, East Ridge News Online sent a brief questionnaire to all the candidates running for Mayor, City Council and Court Clerk.
Mayor Brent Lambert is not seeking re-election for a third term. Former City Councilman Jim Bethune and current City Councilman Brian Williams are seeking the position.
There are two City Council seats up for grabs in the November 6 election. Councilman Larry Sewell, who has served for the past 12 years, is term limited and is prohibited by the City Charter from seeking a fourth term. Jacky Cagle is asking voters to return him for a second term.
Those running for the two council seats are Cagle, Mike Chauncey, Jeff Ezell, Robert Gilreath, Robert Jones, Denny Manning, Gregg Shipley and Andrea “Aundie” Witt.
East Ridge Court Clerk Patricia Cassidy is asking for a second term. She is being challenged by Wayne Thompson.
The following article was gleaned from information the candidates provided to East Ridge News Online.
Click here for a sample ballot.
Brian Williams, 55, is an IT project manager for a power supply company. He attended Chattanooga State and studied Information Technology.
Williams said he is running for mayor to “provide a long term vision in making East Ridge thrive and prosper as a community.” He said he could help achieve this by “working with existing businesses and establishing new business to create new jobs and increase sales tax revenue.”
Williams said he will work to bridge the gap between community focus groups “to build unity and compromise” which would result in better decisions being made by elected officials.
“I will put forth my best effort to make our city a better place to live and raise our children,” he said.
Williams said that the top three priorities he would address as mayor are crime, infrastructure improvements, including roads and streetscaping, and business development.
Williams said that crime is the biggest problem currently facing East Ridge.
“Crime is on a upswing and we need to address this sooner than later,” he said. “We have just initiated a Crime Suppression Unit (CSU) this year dedicated specifically to combat illegal activity. I would like to continue to expand on this program.”
Mike Chauncey, 42, is currently Chairman of the East Ridge Planning Commission.
A 1994 graduate of Central High School. He attended Chattanooga State before entering the workforce. He is a 2006 graduate of the Tennessee Real Estate Educational System.
Chauncey has been a realtor since 2007. Within his brokerage he is Director of HUD operations overseeing a team of agents as it pertains to marketing and sales of all HUD assignments within his firm. Chauncey said from 2012 to 2017 he was recognized as the top listing and sales agent within the company.
Chauncey said the most rewarding time of his career came during the “subprime mortgage crisis from 2007 to 2009.
“I helped dozens of families receive thousands of dollars in reloction assistance from their mortgagor so they could stay on their feet during a very unfortunate time,” he said.
Chauncey said he wants a seat on the City Council because he believes returning the same people would go back to “decades of leadership that has shown no ability to maintain the progress of the past.”
“If you’re unhappy with the direction that East Ridge has gone, well, this should be a ‘no-brainer’ decision when entering the polls,” Chauncey said.
Chauncey said if elected he would make assisting the police department a top priority. He said he would be a proponent of getting the ERPD “all of the equipment they need to protect themselves as well as the citizens. I will work towards making East Ridge the safest city within 100 miles.”
Part and parcel of reducing crime is encouraging home ownership, Chauncey said. In order to do that the city needs to be a more desirable place to buy a home and raise a family. He said that East Ridge is very attractive because of its location.
“We need to shape up our residential district and raise the standards,” Chauncey said. “There are currently too many irresponsible property owners and landlords that do not maintain their rental properties. It’s just not fair when property blight affects the quality of life of the people that live in homes nearby.”
Chauncey believes that the biggest problem facing East Ridge is urban decay. He said during the last 10 years there has been record growth throughout Hamilton County. East Ridge has been the exception.
“It’s our turn to see some improvements and progress in our commercial district as well as our residential district,” he said. “Our city needs to make wise investments that will reap rewards for our citizens and new generations to come,”
Jeff Ezell is a 57-year-old retired Boilermaker. The 1979 graduate of East Ridge High School worked in the auto parts industry before becoming a boilermaker and traveling all over the United States rebuilding chemical plants, fossil power plants and nuclear plants. Ezell said his responsibilities during his career included being a foreman, general foreman, superintendent, general superintendent and site manager. He said during his career he dealt with large projects with tight schedules and budgets that required him to supervise as many as 300 employees. He retired in 2016.
Ezell has lived in East Ridge for more than 50 years. He said during that time he’s seen a lot of change.
“I feel like even though there were some changes, we didn’t keep up with the changing times over the last 10 to 15 years, he said. “I feel like with the help of new councilmen, we can make East Ridge a better place for families and businesses to grow and I believe I can help make that happen.”
Ezell said if elected he would concentrate on bringing new businesses to East Ridge to fill vacant storefronts and promoting new businesses being constructed.
“I want to work hard to get condemned or boarded up houses rebuilt or removed,” he said.
Ezell believes that crime is the single biggest issue East Ridge is facing. He wants to hire more police officers.
“Though our population has not changed much in the last 10 years, the people passing through and/or visiting seems to have doubled or even tripled,” Ezell said. “We need more police officers for traffic so we can keep police officers in our neighborhoods where we have the most problems.”
Robert Gilreath, 67, had a long career in construction as a project manager, construction supply and construction consultant before retiring in August of 2017.
Gilreath graduated from Tyner High School in 1969 and attended Cleveland State from 1970 to 1972.
“I am running for City Council because I feel that our city has a second chance in bringing new business through the Border Region Act, and with my background in construction, I do understand how development and the construction process works,” he said.
Gilreath said that there needs to be more transparency on the city council. “It’s time that the council listens to the citizens’ concerns,” he said.
Gilreath’s top priorities if elected to the council would be continuing to bring more business to the city, provide more transparency and work with all departments to ensure East Ridge becomes a place where people feel safe and want to live.
Gilreath said one of the biggest problems facing East Ridge is that citizens need to become better informed on how the Border Region Act works. He vowed that if elected he would be “very active” in helping citizens better understand the Border Region Act and how it can “put our city back to a place people want to visit, live and do business.”
“Most of the residents of our city do not understand the mechanics of the act,” he said. “The consensus they have is that the city is just spending money to bring in more revenue with the taxpayers footing the bill. The Border Region Act will be in force for twenty years and the additional revenue generated back to the city can be huge.”
He said the additional revenue generated by the Border Region Act could affect the taxpayer by lowering the property tax rate and increasing the value of property all across the city.
Robert Jones, 52, went to Chattanooga State and studied communications, broadcasting and business. He works for Orange Grove Center in group home maintenance.
Jones said he is running for public office because “I love my community and want to make a difference in how people look at East Ridge as a whole.”
Jones said that he grew up believing in family and community. “We need to support each other, not tear everyone and everything down,” he said. “I made a promise to my wife that when we moved back to East Ridge I will do what I can to make a difference.”
Jones said he believes the biggest problem facing East Ridge is a lack of respect.
“People have lost respect for each other, for the police, for the elected officials, for teachers, for those in church, for those out of church and for our neighbors,” he said. “We as a community need to work together to correct this. If we can work together we can accomplish wonders.”
If elected, Jones said he would make public safety, business and schools priorities.
He said that the fire and police department are “reactive” and should be “proactive.” He said he would support both agencies “100 percent.”
“It’s not spoken but obvious that Chattanooga doesn’t want gangs and crime in certain areas and are pushing them out in one direction,” Jones said. “This must stop now or we won’t ever gain control.”
Jones said that empty store fronts dominate the city. “What are we really doing to attract business to East Ridge?” he said. “We need to shape up, clean up and support our local businesses. And, yes, our local businesses need to support the residents too.”
He said there is much to be done on both sides of “that little fence.”
Jones said that both the high school and middle school are old and “need to be rebuilt ASAP.”
He said that he wants our children to feel safe at our schools. “And if they see us as a community working to help them they will accept and respect the adults more!”
Gregg Shipley, 57, has an Associates Degree in Applied Science and worked as a dental laboratory technician for 30 years.
Shipley, the Chairman of the East Ridge Beer Board, said he is seeking a seat on the City Council so “our city can do better.”
“I have leadership ability and believe the knowledge I espouse will obtain results,” said the lifelong resident of East Ridge. “I want everyone in East Ridge to feel safe again while our community moves into the 21st century.
Shipley said he’s running to “support our police and fire and make sure they are equipped with the best equipment to ensure safety within our community.”
Shipley said his three top priorities if elected would be rebuilding trust between citizens and city government, addressing organizational structure and establishing better communication within the City Council.
Shipley said he’s given “extensive thought” over the last several years over lack of trust between the community and elected officials.
“Lack of trust is a common theme and has been amplified throughout the community,” he said. “We need leaders, like myself, who are willing to bring an open mind to every discussion and who are willing to hear from the community.”
Shipley said issues between the community and city government are not being addressed. “Lack of organizational structure effects the way the community is being constructed,” he said. “Without organizational structure East Ridge does not have the proper foundation to shape a community in the correct composition.”
Shipley said that if elected he would establish a “climate of communications, trust and transparency on the council.”
“A well-functioning council working in conjunction with one another and the community is key to East Ridge’s success,” Shipley said. “Once trust can be established our community can support one another.
Examples of such Shipley said, would be the creation of a group that helps citizens clean up dilapidated properties. Another example would be creating a group to help the elderly get to and from where they may need to go.
Shipley said he believes the biggest problem facing East Ridge is a communication breakdown between city officials and the community. He said there is a “lack of accurate information.”
It can be fixed by getting more community involvement. He said he will advocate for better communication between City Hall and the community at-large.
“I can be the councilman for the communities’ common goals,” he said.
Andrea “Aundie” Witt, 66, graduated from East Tennessee State University and worked for 37 years at the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development before recently retiring.
Witt’s career with the state – she rose to the position of Manager/Career Center Coordinator of the Tennessee Career Center – included working on economic and community development for Hamilton County and eight surrounding counties. Her last project, she said, involved working with Governors Phil Bredesen and Bill Haslam during the hiring process for Volkswagen.
Witt said her background and knowledge in her career with the state “is beneficial to understanding economic and community growth in our city.”
“Our location on I-75 is the perfect access to our most valuable asset, Camp Jordan,” she said. “The city needs to build our community around the fact that we are the gateway from Georgia to Tennessee. An example given to me: Gatlinburg has its Pigeon Forge. East Ridge needs to make Exit 1 the new entrance to Chattanooga by improving our business opportunities from Exit 1 to the East Ridge tunnels.”
Witt said her three priorities if elected would be getting crime under control, business recruitment and schools.
“Having a topnotch police force is a must for our city as safety is the upmost priority,” she said.
To aid business recruitment, Witt advocates the hiring of a full-time city planner. That person could work closely with the Industrial Development Board, Planning Commission, Zoning Appeals Board and the Housing Commission.
“Building and growing our city is a full-time job if we bring in successful business opportunities,” she said. “It all starts with having a successful plan in place.”
Witt volunteers her services on a weekly basis to Spring Creek Elementary School. She said volunteers – parents, grandparent and retirees – inspire ownership and pride in our schools.
“Our schools and students need connections to community resources to ensure every child has the necessary items to learn in the classroom,” Witt said.
She noted that the East Ridge Optimist Club is assisting in a building project for a multi-handicapped classroom. The East Ridge Needy Child Fund assists with school supplies and clothes for disadvantaged students. The East Ridge Community Food Pantry, which is supported by the Needy Child Fund, helps ensure that students and their families have access to food. The East Ridge Alumni Association has a “buy a brick” program that is helping to fund a new field house at the high school.
“Schools are building our future workforce for East Ridge,” she said. “As a community, our focus should be on ways the city may increase our schools’ visibility in Hamilton County. When buying a home, the realtor will be asked about the area’s school district. Showing our commitment to our schools may influence families to relocate to East Ridge.”
Witt said the single biggest problem in East Ridge is crime. She said that the city’s proximity to Interstates 75 and 24 helps East Ridge but it also is a conduit for those engaged in human and drug trafficking.
“We must provide our police force with the necessary tools to decrease our crime rate,” Witt said. Making East Ridge a safer place to live will help bring business and families into our community.”
MUNICIPAL COURT CLERK
Patricia Cassidy, 64, is asking voters to return her for a second term as court clerk. Cassidy, who has 30 years experience in the legal field, has an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice and a Paralegal Certificate.
“When I was elected four years ago … I was truly worried then because I knew that the citizens of East Ridge tend to vote by popularity instead of qualifications,” she said. “I believe I have proven myself to be the person that the citizens hoped I would be, and made not only myself proud, but also the people proud that they made the right choice.”
Cassidy said that during her first term she brought back the confidence in the court with the police officers, district attorneys office, attorneys, the judge and the citizens of East Ridge.
She said that “from day one” she worked in reorganizing the court to work more efficiently. Cassidy said she helped implement a Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) computer system that is tied to Hamilton County to help the court run more efficiently. She was instrumental in furnishing the ERPD with a new prisoner transport van.
“I do not feel that the position of Court Clerk should be categorized as an “Office” position like our Mayor and Council seats,” she said. “It is a job, a full-time job and sometimes an overtime job.”
Cassidy said she is running once again because she loves the job. “I’m passionate about my job. I’m honest, hard-working, experienced and knowledgeable.”
Cassidy said the court clerk’s position in East Ridge is nothing like the Hamilton County Court Clerk’s position. The county has an elected court clerk and 20 to 25 clerks that do the work. Cassidy has a staff of four.
“We are a team, work as a team and that’s how we’ve become so efficient,” she said. “I will work hard for the court to become more efficient because the safety of East Ridge depends on the effectiveness of this court.”
Wayne Thompson, 53, works for Chattanooga Funeral Home. He is a former East Ridge employee who retired after 30 years of service to the community. He worked for six years (1984-91) as a dispatcher with the East Ridge Police Department before joining Codes Enforcement from 1991 to 1997. Thompson was the supervisor of Camp Jordan Park from 1997 until 2014.
“I believe that collection of fees and fines levied by the court is one of the most important duties of the clerk’s office,” he said. “One of my top priorities as court clerk will be to start working on collecting the hundreds of thousands of dollars that is owed to the city in back fines. The more money we collect the sooner the department will become more self sufficient and self funding.”
Thompson has been married to his wife, Donna, for 32 years. They have three children and a granddaughter. The Thompsons attend South Seminole Baptist Church.