Commissioners look back at 2014, ahead to coming year



To follow up the interview last week with Probate Judge/Commission Chairman Chris Green, we asked each of the county commissioners for their reflections on the year just completed and the one ahead. Because of the dislocations of the season, only two – Allen Armstrong and Dean Calvert – were able to respond. Their thoughts appear here, and will be followed later by comments from Carthal Self and Gary Stricklin.

All commissioners were asked to respond to three questions: (1) What are you proudest of that got accomplished in 2014 (a) in your district, and (b) in the county as a whole. (2) What do you most regret about last year (a) with respect to your district, and (b) with respect to the county as a whole? (3) What are you most determined to accomplish next year (a) in your district, and (b) in the county as a whole?

Allen Armstrong: “My proudest accomplishment in 2014 would be taking a hardline stance in the budget hearings and vote regarding spending for the 2015 fiscal year. The District 1 and District 2 commissioners voted and lost our proposal for equal (road) funding on a per-mile district basis. We were also voted down on some proposed spending cuts for the upcoming year.

“However, we were able to fight off a proposed tax increase that was being pushed by the commission chairman. (Ed. Armstrong’s reference is to discussions that took place in a budget planning session in August. Mention of possible measures to increase revenues was made, but no formal proposals to pursue them followed, Armstrong said.)

We completed the year with some resurfaced and rehabilitated roads. I am proud to say that along with the help of my fellow commissioners we were able to rehab 17 dirt roads and chip seal 50 roads. A total of 9.42 miles of dirt road and 33.85 miles of paved roads were reworked within the last four years.

“Countywide, I am proudest to say that when emergencies occur…our crews come together within the county to clean up and repair during these times. During the surprise ice storm of 2014, no student or faculty member was left stranded overnight in Blount County. Also, I am very proud that the health care initiative showed a substantial savings…of around $150,000 to the county…on insurance premiums in 2014.

“My biggest regret in my District for 2014 would be some projects that went unfinished due to weather. Two roads yet to be completed are Old Hayden Road and county road 7. We had several newly resurfaced roads get significant freeze damage and required immediate repair. These repairs regrettably bumped the completion of these two road projects.

“Countywide, I regret the commission as a whole being labeled as dysfunctional because we don’t rubber stamp every item the present chairman attempts to put on the agenda. We are going to disagree on issues and agreeing on every issue is not always what is best for the county. I think we would all agree that everything President Obama would like to do is not what is always best for America. This is the same principle, just on a smaller scale.

“I am determined in the upcoming year to address the road projects that went unfinished and to start new ones that were already scheduled. I plan to continue attending tabletop discussions held by the Hayden School department heads, so that we can keep our children as safe as possible. I will continue to push for cuts in the budget so that we can add police protection and perform road maintenance.

“I will work with everyone involved in the development of the new West Blount Park. It will not only add to the quality of life for the people of our community, but it also has the potential to be a huge revenue and economic driving force for retail in our area.

“Countywide, I would like for the four commissioners to sit down and take a look at where we are headed and what we can do to make all of our departments more streamlined and efficient. We do not have a large retail or industry base here in Blount County. I think we need to work hard on economic development, but in a way that will allow us to keep the country feel that has attracted our residents to make this county their home. I also plan to continue addressing our twoway communication issues with E-911, and the non-existent coverage in some areas of the county.”

Dean Calvert: “I think the thing I’m proudest of is the recovery effort from the tornadoes that struck last April on Straight Mountain, especially at Highland Lake. It took a tremendous effort to clean up the debris and repair the damage from those storms and it couldn’t have been done without the cooperation of the whole county – individuals and agencies alike. I can’t say enough about the county road crews that bore the brunt of it. I’m especially proud that we’ve been able to restore the roads in Highland Lake that took such a hit from the storm: cleaning up debris, repairing them, patching some of them, and repaving others. Echo Lane, Martin Drive, Dam Road, West Lakeshore Drive, and Highland Lake Drive all sustained damage and have been restored.

“I’m also really proud of the new Lebanon bridge on county road 42. I’ve got some fences I’m going to try to mend in connection with our collaboration with District 2 on that bridge, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I’m really proud of what the road crews from both districts accomplished. I’m proud of those guys for having the skill and the knowhow and the dedication to build that bridge from a set of specifications, without us having to hire an outside contractor to build it at twice the cost or more. People don’t realize how talented our road crews are. They’ve built bridges all over this county in recent years that are a tribute to how skilled our workers here are. I’m proud of that, and I want our citizens to be aware of it, too.

“As far as important accomplishments for the whole county are concerned, I think the biggest one is getting the Economic Development Council set up and organized. In years to come, we’ll look back and say that was the most vital step we took as a commission. That one step will end up benefiting citizens and their children and grandchildren more than anything else we did or could have done. It’ll take time, but it’ll pay off in the long run. We’ve got too many resources and too many advantages as a place to live and work for it not to.

“As far as regrets, I guess I’d say it was the difficulties we had working together as a commission – what some have called dysfunctional. I regret that, and that’s what I’m determined to try my best to work on and improve in the coming year. I’m going to keep my mouth shut and not argue any more. Like I said, I’ve got some fences to mend and I’m going to give it my best effort to mend’em. I didn’t work hard enough last year to avoid disagreement and to show true leadership. Everyone will listen to you if you just work to find those key notes that everyone can get in tune with on the issues. I’m committed to try to do that next year so we can have a good commission working together for the benefit of the county.”