Rutherford County Mayoral candidates: Heather Ann Brown, Current County Mayor Ernest Burgess and Teresa St. Clair
Two independent candidates are challenging two-term Republican Mayor Ernest Burgess in Thursday’s election.
Heather Ann Brown of Rockvale, Teresa “Tess” St. Clair of Murfreesboro and Burgess answered these questions from The Post in advance of the final vote.
Heather Ann Brown - Independent
Career: Hair Productions cosmetologist, Embers Inc., a nonprofit
Family: Chihuahuas named Bilbo Baggins and Paco, Welsh corgi named Ember Lynn, Doberman named Isis
How would you hold down taxes over the next four years while dealing with school enrollment increases?: I will go to every department I oversee and ensure more oversight of their spending and help them stop any and all excess spending and/or purchasing.
I would encourage the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office and ensure that the workhouse work towards or becomes a self-supporting entity, which they can do, to significantly lower or stop the yearly money that’s requested by them to come from the taxpayers’ budget. I would ensure that we have a better and lower ratio than one-fifth of our community paying into probation and rework the whole probation system, obtain grant money available and get rehabilitation/work services to the people in this cycle and get that money back into our local economy.
I want a better working relationship with respect to the education system, and I want more oversight of school construction in regard to material lists. I don’t want high or superfluous contracting bids. And we should always use common sense when purchasing land as it is never appropriate for the taxpayer to pay $70,000 for an acre for school land.
How should the county handle the potential closing of privately-owned Middle Point Landfill?: I’ve thought about this in depth and my proposal is to use the technology available to us and obtain an energy-efficient waste generator that works by expanding and contracting gas in an enclosed system by heating and cooling it. This concept has been available to us since the early 1800s and we are just now realizing the practical uses of such technology.
We can then pair the generator with technology created by Dean Kamen called a slingshot on a large scale that is a medical grade water purifier. It’s based on dialysis machine technology. It contains a boiling chamber, compressor and counter flow heat exchanger. It needs only enough energy to start the first boil and a solar panel and it self-perpetuates. We are always going to have waste, so instead of making our waste someone else’s problem, we should use this technology to dispose of our waste, clean our water, create energy, clean the environment, create jobs and create revenue.
We would fund this project by going to Coca-Cola, Nissan and acquiring the grant money and tax breaks along with the revenue I’m going to get back into our economy.
Should another look be taken at creating a county legal department?: Yes, for starters we should use the space available at the workhouse and employ our own staff to handle the probation system to replace PCC and have more oversight of revenue coming in and where it’s going. That, for one, will save taxpayers money and since I would be working closely with the sheriff on reworking our probation system, we would no longer require PCC’s services.
By using unused portions of the workhouse in lieu of PCC, it would cut the cost to the taxpayer for these different facilities. It will also open reporting days to five days a week in one location and help cut down on probation violations. Work-release programs would be funded by grants, which will enable the county jail and workhouses to be independently funded and alleviating taxpayers’ burden of footing the bill.
Should county government consider a full review of its legal system and determine how much revenue comes through the courts and how that money is spent?: Yes, for most of the people they are too high. If a person has no job “skill” or trade and are in the legal system for a crime that they did to survive or to support their family, how do we then expect them to pay thousands in court costs? Probation fees should be based on the state statutes and should also keep in mind the family size and income.
If a person is violated on probation for non-payment, it will cost the taxpayer more to house them and care for their children through public assistance. We must rethink the whole probation cycle and its ultimate cost to the taxpayer.
Name one way you could save Rutherford County a substantial amount of tax money: By the people deciding to elect me as the next mayor of Rutherford County.
Will you serve as chairman of Rutherford County Commission meetings or take an active role and hold a vote?: Yes, I will take an active role and hold a vote.
Ernest Burgess - Republican
Career: Retired senior executive from NHC, small businessman and cattle farmer
Family: Wife of 54 years, Peggy, three children and seven grandchildren
How would you hold down taxes over the next four years while dealing with school enrollment increases?: The primary thing that will do is to continue to minimize the growth in operational expenditures. We will continue to focus on efficiency and improvement in productivity, while controlling and minimizing any increases in general and operation expenditures. As our population increases, it is probably that our student enrollment will also increase. With an increase in population, our revenues, particularly from sales taxes, will also likely increase. We will try to limit increases in school expenditures to those increases in revenue.
How should the county handle the potential closing of privately-owned Middle Point Landfill?: This is a primary concern that we are addressing. First, we are continuing to try to convey and communicate to all of our citizens the urgency of this matter. With the likely reaching of capacity by the landfill in 12 to 15 years, we must have a plan of reasonable cost for the placement and disposal of our solid waste. Two of the approaches that we are currently focusing on are: 1) Recycling and 2) Environmentally friendly engineering developments that would dispose of waste with a resulting creation of a beneficial product such as energy.
Should another look be taken at creating a County Legal Department?: Over the last several years we have developed a very well defined and workable agreement with the current law firm that is providing legal services for the county. This agreement provides general legal services at a very reasonable base cost. In addition, the staff of the firm is extraordinarily experienced, competent and filled with historical and practical knowledge of the working of county government. I believe the depth and capacity of knowledge would be very difficult, if not impossible, to match with an internal staff or one or two attorneys. Thus, I believe that we should continue with our current arrangement.
Should the county government consider a full review of its legal system and determine how much revenue comes through the courts and how that money is spent?: First of all, a county has very little influence over the fees, fines and costs within the judicial system. This process is largely controlled by the state legislative body with assistance of the Tennessee Office of the Courts. There are at least 12 different titles with Tennessee Code Annotated that address costs within the court system. In fact, there are more than 1,100 financial combinations of possible fees, fines and costs just within the criminal courts. This question could best be answered by a legislative study committee.
Name one way you could save Rutherford County a substantial amount of tax money: I believe that Rutherford County now is a very efficient government. The Finance Department, commission, elected officials and department heads have diligently worked together with me to be just as efficient as possible without jeopardizing the needed delivery of services to our citizens, particularly in the area of public safety. I believe we have been very attentive to managing our expenditures, and thus I do not believe there is an expense item whereby a substantial amount of money could be reduced.
Will you serve as chairman of the Rutherford County Commission meetings or take an active role and hold a vote? I would like to continue to serve as chairman of the commission.
Teresa "Tess" St. Clair
Family: Ralph Weber, husband
How would you hold down taxes over the next four years while dealing with school enrollment increases?: By being a better fiduciary of the people's money. When we disconnect from ownership of our government, by referring to its finances as "tax dollars" or "county finances," we forget who really owns the money. The county's current system of accounting is based on smoke and mirrors, and no private business would ever use it. I’ve uncovered millions in abuse, with just a little scratching, so how much more is there? The property tax increase of 4.1 percent was unjustified, and unnecessary.
How should the county handle the potential closing of privately-owned Middle Point Landfill?: Solutions should be found before closing it. Landfill is old school. Incineration puts smoke into the air, but gets rid of the garbage and toxins, and it also generates electricity. If that is an acceptable alternative to the people, it should be considered. Composting is better, but does not eliminate toxins the way incineration does. There are systems that combine both compostable and non-compostable garbage including sewage, it's incinerated and leaves only an inert peat behind. This is my personal preference.
Should another look be taken at creating a county legal department and why or why not?: We need in-house counsel not connected to any law firm to prevent conflicts, and assure taxpayers that their interests are first. Any other agreement means counsel is self-serving. Did the current contract go to bid? Why was it written for four years instead of the usual two years? In my opinion, current legal intellect indicates that we are overpaying. Good legal advice reduces lawsuits and eminent domain cases which require courts and litigation costing taxpayers more than the regular salary.
Should county government consider a full review of its legal system and determine how much revenue comes through the courts and how that money is spent?: Yes, it hasn't been done in a long time, by an outside independent review board. Need quarterly financials for finance committee so we know how much money is in the coffers, from where, and to where it is going, and how much it costs us in admin fees. We also need to allow corporate officers to represent their companies in small claims court. Currently they are forced to hire attorneys for small claims, which makes no sense since corporations have personhood.
All costs associated with the courts should pay for themselves not to cause the taxpayer to run the courts for people who are criminals. Fees should be set so that the system pays its own way. Some fees are questionable, like the “expunge fee” for cases that were thrown out of court. Fees can make it difficult for people to use the court system the way it was meant to be used.
Name one way you could save Rutherford County a substantial amount of tax money.: Start with a forensic claims audit on the county employee benefits plan and restructuring the entire plan. Current design is so bad, no broker worth his salt would ever put their name to it. A minor examination exposed overcharges between $4 million and $6 million. A full audit is expected to find nearly $100 million that’s recoverable to the people. There are other expenses related to the county employees’ health benefits that need to be examined for fraud, waste and abuse, including the biometrics program.
Will you serve as chairman of Rutherford County Commission meetings or take an active role and hold a vote?: I would take an active role and vote.