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Election results, November 2018

Election Day is over, and the unofficial results show that the four City Council incumbents were re-elected to four-year terms.

Here are the vote totals, in rank order:

  • Warren Gooch 7,916
  • Kelly Callison 7,665
  • Ellen Smith 7,132
  • Rick Chinn 6,616
  • Tim Stallings 6,219

So it’s time for me (and Warren, Kelly, and Rick) to settle in for a new four-year term on City Council!

Thanks to everyone who supported me in this election.

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Letter of endorsement: “Why repair something that doesn’t need fixing?”

Gene Dunaway submitted this letter to the editor to The Oak Ridger, and was told it was “too late” to publish. I love the way he expresses himself here, and I appreciate his endorsement of the incumbent “team” on City Council, so I’m publishing his letter here and on my Facebook page.

Dear Editor:

We can all agree that Oak Ridge is not Mayberry RFD. We don’t have a Sherriff Andy Taylor. We don’t have a Barney Fife directing traffic. But we have a real barber, Jim Breeding at the Arcade Barber Shop, who actually cuts hair. We also share at this exact point in time, via paraphrase, a more congenial spot for happily-ever-aftering than here in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

While I don’t expect our citizens to gather in mass at city hall and burst into joyful song about our fair city, we do have the opportunity to express our appreciation to current city council members standing for re-election.  Kelly Callison, Rick Chinn, Warren Gooch, Derrick Hammond, and Ellen Smith have earned the right to continue “running” our elected government.

We have a certain civility between the city and the various federal entities operating within our borders. Our economy is growing. The various city departments are responsive to the needs and requests of our citizens. In turn, these departments are also being treated with respect as to meeting their desires for improving their services.

Each of these individuals has his or her own idea of improving what Oak Ridge should do as a governmental body. But each of them shares a vision of unity which has led to our positive outlook as a city. Why “repair” something that does not need fixing?

Respectfully submitted,

Gene R. Dunaway

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Residents need more money in their pockets

At Thursday evening’s League of Women Voters forum for state legislative candidates, one of the questions was about increasing minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Tennessee has no state minimum wage, so the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour applies here. Minimum wage isn’t a local government issue, since state law prevents cities and counties from mandating a minimum wage, and anyway it wouldn’t make sense for a place like Oak Ridge to require a wage higher than that in the community next door.

At the forum, incumbents Rep. John Ragan and Sen. (and Lt. Gov.) Randy McNally, both Republicans said that the market should determine rates of pay, not government. Their opponents, Democrats Richard Dawson and Stuart Starr, both supported increases in the minimum. I’m disappointed by the incumbents’ opposition to a higher minimum wage, because I see the inadequate incomes of many local workers as a serious challenge for our whole community. Oak Ridge has far too many hard-working citizens who are having difficulty making ends meet without public and charitable assistance. I said as much in one of my responses to the Progress PAC questionnaire:

The biggest challenge I see … is that too many people don’t have enough money.  [This is not only a problem for these people, but also for our housing, schools, businesses, and civic affairs.] …The U.S. economy no longer generates jobs that pay the kinds of wages to low-skilled workers that earlier generations received. … I believe that we need a higher minimum wage in Tennessee, but city government can’t do that on its own…

The summer I was 17, I had a retail job that paid the federal minimum wage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index Calculator, the hourly wage I received back then was equivalent in buying power to $10.36 in September 2018. That’s substantially more than the current federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. Notably, a full-time worker getting $10.36 an hour should be able to afford a place to live here in Oak Ridge (unlike full-time workers getting $7.25, who are getting turned down by landlords who judge that they don’t make enough money to pay rent).

Over the last 80 years (since it was first enacted in 1938), the U.S. minimum wage has set a floor on the wages and salaries for all American workers (employers who want workers with more than minimum qualifications typically need to pay more than the minimum in order to attract and retain good employees), and helped create and support the middle class. I think our nation and state need to start raising that floor again, because hard-working people should not have to depend on charity to survive, and they deserve to have the resources to be good parents to their children, be good customers for business, and good contributors to the community at large.

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Compare candidates’ responses to Progress PAC questionnaire

Four of the City Council candidates responded to questionnaires from the Progress PAC and participated in interviews with the organization’s board members. Visit the Progress PAC Facebook page to read our questionnaire responses and compare candidates.

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Amazing voter turnout

Crowded parking lot at Midtown early voting site
I have voter numbers for the first 4 days of early voting in the Anderson County part of Oak Ridge:

  1. 673 on the first day of early voting (October 17)
  2. 610 on October 18
  3. 671 on October 19
  4. 199 on October 20 (Saturday, polls open just 3 hours)

That’s 2153 in total — nearly 14% of the total registered voters! Amazing.

And it was still very busy this morning!

ADDED Tuesday, Oct. 23: 648 Oak Ridgers in Anderson County voted on Monday.

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Investing in the city’s future: preschool and senior center

Yes, Oak Ridge is finally going to have a new preschool and senior center. In the City’s 75th birthday year, the city government is investing for the future.

Council voted last Thursday to award construction contracts for the projects. Work should start in a couple of weeks. The preschool project will include construction of new recreation facilities in Scarboro Park (basketball courts, ball field, tennis court, pavilion and paved walking trails), where the school will be built.

It was a great relief that the construction bids came in below estimates — the projects won’t cost as much as we thought! Next Monday, October 22, we’ll have a special meeting to get the ball rolling on selling bonds for the building projects. (The bond issue is already approved.)

Read about the meeting at Oak Ridge Today or The Oak Ridger, or watch the video on the city website.

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Candidate forums for the city election

There are several upcoming opportunities for Oak Ridgers to meet and hear from candidates for city office.

  • Thursday evening (October 11) at 7 pm, there’s a City Council candidate forum on local cable channel 12 (on Comcast; it may not be available to AT&T customers). The five candidates for 4-year terms on Council have been invited to participate.
  • Tuesday afternoon, October 16, 4-6 pm, is a “Popcorn and Politics” event at the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce, where attendees can meet various local candidates.
  • The League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge candidate forum is Tuesday, October 16, at 7:00 p.m. in the Oak Ridge High School Amphitheater, 1450 Oak Ridge Turnpike. The press announcement says that candidates running for Oak Ridge City Council and Oak Ridge Board of Education have been invited to participate, and Darrell Richardson has been invited to moderate. Although one of the candidates for City Council (Derrick Hammond, running for the two-year unexpired term) and all three candidates for the Board of Education are unopposed, because several of these candidates are new to Oak Ridge voters, to become better acquainted with the new candidates and reacquainted with the opinions of incumbents, the League is inviting all candidates to give opening statements, answer questions from the audience and the moderator, and give closing statements.
  • Thursday, October 18, 7-8:30, there’s an informal meet the candidates event at the Oak Ridge Civic Center, sponsored by Democracy for East Tennessee.

I’ll be busy, and I hope to meet some interested citizens!

(p-z)

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Election season 2018 has begun

Yes, it’s another Oak Ridge City election season in Oak Ridge! What with the excitement over the US Supreme Court and our Tennessee elections for Governor, Senate, US House, and state legislature, it feels like few people are paying any attention to the Oak Ridge election. The only race with more candidates than seats is the four-year term on City Council, where five of us are running for four seats. The League of Women Voters has posted a Vote411 candidate comparison page at https://onyourballot.vote411.org/race-detail.do?id=18069787. So far it’s only sparsely populated with content, but you can read my responses to the League’s questions. Updated: All Council candidates have responded to these questions!

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Martin Luther King Day events in Oak Ridge – 2017

Here’s the schedule I received today. Note that one of these events has already passed:

2017 Oak Ridge Celebrations
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday
Monday, January 16, 2017
“A Day On, Not A Day Off”
Schedule of Events

Wednesday, January 11th

10:00 a.m. Department of Energy, ORO, ORAU, 210 Badger Road
ORAU Pollard Technology Conference Center
Guest Speaker: Rev. P. Banneker Hatcherson, Pastor
23rd Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL
Sponsor: Black Employment Program

6:00 p.m. Oak Valley Baptist Church, 194 Hampton Road
Dr. King Program and Soul Food Dinner
Guest Speaker: David Anderson, Regional Supervisor, Dept. of Children Services and
President, Anderson County Branch of NAACP
Theme: “Has Dr. King’s Dream become a Reality?”
Sponsor: OVBC Family Life Ministries

Monday, January 16th

8:00a.m. Atomic City Sportsmen’s MLK Breakfast, 194 Hampton Road
(Oak Valley’s Fellowship Hall)
Guest Speaker: Rev. Renee Kessler, Director of Beck Cultural Center
Sponsor: Atomic City Sportsmen

9:45 a.m. The “Community Speaks” Program, 602 Scarboro Road
New Hope Center, (Y-12) Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC.
Guest Speaker: Rev. Linda Wilson Calvert
Theme: “The Strength To Love”
Participants: SECME Inc. /Scholarship Awards/Music/Dance
Sponsors: Xi Iota Omega Chapter, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Consolidate Nuclear Security, LLC., Oak Valley Baptist Church, Saint Stephens Episcopal Church

Lunch (New Hope Center Lobby)
Methodist Medical Center/Covenant Health
Desserts: By Church Women United

4:00p.m. MLK Basketball Benefit, Robertsville Middle School, 245 Robertsville Road
Teams: Robertsville Middle School vs. Oliver Springs Middle School
Girls Junior Varsity 4:00 p.m.
Boys Junior Varsity 5:00 p.m.
Girls Varsity 6:00 p.m.
Boys Varsity 7:00 p.m.

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Liquor licensees — changing the rules in the middle of the game?

citysealAt tonight’s City Council meeting some rules got changed in the middle of the game.  That was unsportsmanlike — and it was not business-friendly.

Oak Ridge has an ordinance (dating back nearly 50 years) requiring that owners and operators of retail liquor establishments (liquor stores) must be city residents, unless Council votes to waive the requirement. And Council has routinely waived that residency requirement for everyone who requests a waiver. I’m not aware that anyone was ever denied a waiver — and very few liquor sellers actually live in the city.

Since we don’t require owners of any other type of business to live in the city and since the residency requirement hasn’t been enforced, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to keep it on the books. It’s just one of several antiquated ordinances related to liquor that need to be updated (a topic I’ve discussed with legal staff). But we have to live with it for now.

Tonight Council considered a request for a residency waiver and a “certificate of good moral character” from two young men (I think they are brothers) who purchased a long-operating local liquor store and needed city council approval in order to get a state license. All the usual checking of police records, etc., had been done to verify that they met the legal requirements for “good moral character,”  and one of the young men even told us that they used to live in Oak Ridge and hoped to move back here (from Knox County) after getting into business here.

I expected they would receive the approvals that are routinely granted to liquor license applicants, but it didn’t happen. One Council member said he wanted to support local small business, and he wasn’t sure he likes  the residency requirement, but he would vote against a waiver because he didn’t like the idea of waiving the residency requirement. He said he understood that it had been waived in the past, but he had never voted for a waiver and he didn’t want to start now. Another Council member apparently agreed with him and voted not to grant the waiver. Two “no” votes was enough to defeat the resolution because it needed 4 votes to pass, and there were only 5 Council members voting (Councilwoman Trina Baughn was absent and Mayor Warren Gooch had recused himself due to a possible conflict of interest).

So Council changed the rules in the middle of the game for these young men. And contrary to that Councilman’s recollection, he had voted for waivers previously. As recently as March of this year, he voted “yes” when 6 members of Council voted to waive the residency requirement for 7 applicants for new or renewed licenses. (It’s recorded in the minutes of that meeting.)

So two young men who invested in a local small business and were eager to get started are being told “no” because of Council members who decided to change the rules in the middle of the game. In my book, that’s arbitrary regulation — the exact opposite of “being business-friendly.” I hope that this action doesn’t lead to the closure of the store these young men bought.

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