published Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Hamilton County Commission will see new faces, leadership

Hamilton County Commissioners conduct business during a commission meeting in this file photo.
Hamilton County Commissioners conduct business during a commission meeting in this file photo.
Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

VOTER TURNOUT

A relative few residents made decisions for the county in Tuesday's primary.

Only 24,045 of Hamilton County's 219,708 eligible voters cast ballots Tuesday. That accounts for just under 11 percent turnout. Believe it or not, that is up from 2010 primary numbers. Election records show 8.3 percent of voters — 17,388 out of 207,858 — cast ballots in that election.

Change is in the wind for the Hamilton County Commission.

Tuesday's local primary put an August expiration date on Chairman Fred Skillern's 13-year run. And Commissioner Larry Henry is moving on after 12 years, also in August, to take the Circuit Court clerk's post. The two are the body's senior members -- and have been strong conservative leaders on the commission for more than a decade.

Skillern, 77, represents District 1, which includes Sale Creek, Soddy-Daisy and sections of the county north of Red Bank. He joined the commission after being appointed in 2001, and won three elections after that. He's been the body's chairman four times. Before his commission stint, Skillern sat on the county school board on and off for 20 years.

Henry has held the District 7 seat since he first won election in 2002. Since then, he's led the body five times and won two elections. District 7 includes East Brainerd, Westview and the southeast corner of the county.

Under their collective reign, county departments have been asked to do more with less, the school system has jockeyed for every cent it gets from the commission -- and the county's fund balance has grown from $51 million to $105 million in the last 10 years.

After their departure, the old guard will be the commission's only Democrats -- District 5 Commissioner Greg Beck has nine years under his belt, and District 4 Commissioner Warren Mackey has eight. Both won their primaries Tuesday and are unopposed in the general election.

Sabrena Turner, who took the Republican nomination for Henry's spot, said change is good.

If elected, Turner, a political novice and Realtor, would be the commission's first female member since JoAnne Favors left in 2005.

"I would like to see forward-thinking in very positive ways. And some newer blood with some newer ideas for the community, where we can bring in new development and do good things for Hamilton County," she said.

Turner said it is healthy for a government body -- or any committee -- to turn over after "things have run their course."

"I think that's where we're at here in the commission," Turner said.

She also said the commission -- and taxpayers -- could benefit from having a female voice at the table.

"I think it is so exciting, and I hope this can be a door of opportunity for more women, especially more conservative women, to get involved in these political races," she said.

Efforts to reach Ezra Maize, who took the Democratic nod for District 7, were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Skillern is also being replaced by a political newcomer.

Randy Fairbanks, a 57-year-old Soddy-Daisy CPA, has sought office before, but his victory over Skillern on Tuesday was his first win.

Fairbanks ran for county trustee in 1994 and 1998, and he made a bid for the District 31 General Assembly seat in 2006.

On Wednesday, he said he's going in with no specific agenda -- just a will to work.

"I'm going ... to go in there, roll up my sleeves and work hard. There will be a learning curve, but there's a lot of experience in the commission. I'll learn some from them," he said.

He said he plans to look mostly to his constituents for direction.

"We are going to do a lot of work between now and the August election, just to get out in the community and talk to people," Fairbanks said. "In September, I plan to hit the ground running."

There is no Democrat in the District 1 race.

But more changes could come. After August, there could be a total of five new faces on the county's legislative body. Commissioners Joe Graham, Tim Boyd and Chester Bankston -- all of whom are vying for second terms -- face opposition from Democrats.

Former Commissioner John Allen Brooks is facing Graham in District 6, former school board member Kenny Smith is going after Boyd's seat and Melinda Bone is seeking to take Bankston's.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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