East Ridge is at a crossroads. Littered with boarded up storefronts and plagued by unemployment, the city has become a prime example of economic stagnation. City leaders can take a path of working to jump start East Ridge's economic engine or choose the easier road of letting the city continue its decline until it, eventually, becomes a place where no one wants to live or do business.
Rather than working to revitalize East Ridge, the city council has wasted recent months banning smoking outdoors, preventing new revenue-generating, job-creating extended stay hotels from moving into the city and, most famously, running a family with a pet pygmy goat out of town.
Fortunately, the Nov. 6 election provides an opportunity to fill two seats on the city council with people who can serve as guiding forces in the effort to turn East Ridge around.
Unfortunately, judging by Monday's East Ridge City Council candidate forum, only one of the seven candidates running for the two seats has a clear plan to facilitate economic growth, improve run-down areas of town and make the city a more vibrant, livable community. That candidate is Marc Gravitt.
The Free Press editorial page has not traditionally endorsed candidates for East Ridge elections. In this case, however, Gravitt displayed such a clear vision for improving the city through growing the tax base, trimming wasteful spending and encouraging a more transparent government, that he is worthy of support.
We strongly endorse Marc Gravitt for election to the East Ridge City Council.
Speaking to the more than 150 East Ridge residents who filled the gym at Spring Creek Elementary School for the forum, Gravitt had impressive recommendations for trimming the city's ballooning budget. He called to dump the city's part-time contract attorney, who has billed East Ridge taxpayers an average of more than $160,000 over the past five years, and replace him with a full-time city attorney, saving taxpayers $50,000-$75,000 per year. The Army veteran and small business owner also pledged to work to stop the city's unusual and expensive practice of buying back city employee's unused time off.
While Gravitt is clearly deserving of one of the East Ridge City Council seats up for grabs, filling the other seat is the problem. The other five candidates at the forum should each be applauded for running for public office. They all clearly have the best interest of East Ridge at heart. They each, however, proved less than ideal candidates at the forum.
• Ann Pruett, the widow of former East Ridge Mayor Fred Pruett, is justifiably beloved for her service to the East Ridge Library and East Ridge History Center. The forum, however, revealed that the 75 year-old has little understanding of the problems facing East Ridge, or any reasonable ideas regarding how to address them.
• Patricia Cassady engaged in a violent attack on the principles of free enterprise. She claimed to want to shut down the fireworks stores, pawn shops, used car dealerships and tattoo parlors that line Ringgold Road. Cassady ignored the fact that, by closing down dozens of legal, successful private small businesses, East Ridge residents would lose hundreds of jobs and the city coffers would lose millions of tax dollars.
• Incumbent Denny Manning has been one of the most reasonable and fiscally conservative members on the city council. His vision for the city, however, is limited. When asked how to prevent gang activity in East Ridge, his solution was to build a swimming pool. When asked how to stimulate the East Ridge economy, his solution, again, was to build a swimming pool.
• Mimi Lowery claimed that her primary reason for running is her concern about how tax dollars are spent. Moments later, she pledge to squander tax dollars on a costly scheme to furnish taxpayer-funded grants to businesses to update their facades and signage.
• Coach and barber Stephen "Scooter" King had both the fashion statement of the night -- a pair of sunglasses resting on his head during a nighttime, indoor event -- and the line of the night -- "[if I don't know the answer], I got Google, baby!".
With Marc Gravitt in the race, the choice to fill one of the East Ridge City Council seats is clear. The other seat? Well, that's a tougher decision.