Gray says county executive needs vision for future

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   When it comes to qualifications and experience for the office of county executive, former General Sessions Court Judge Richard Gray believes he stands out above the rest of the competition.
   "I have a law degree and this office is primarily dealing with rules, regulations and legal matters. It's the general agent for the county and that means you're the general legal agent for the county," he said.
   Gray has eight years of experience in county government and was heavily involved with the legislative process while on the bench, he said. He also was a financial planner with Merrill Lynch after leaving the bench, "so that gives me a good deal of knowledge and experience with financial planning."
   Before going to law school, Gray spent eight years working with an international pharmaceutical company, "so I have a really broad base of experience and have the highest educational attainment of any of the candidates," he said.
   Most important, Gray said, is "I have a true vision of where we need to go. I've gotten that vision from really doing my homework to see where Carter County is at, to see what we have to do to get where we should be."
   Gray said the overriding issue in the county, to him, is the economic well-being of the citizens. "In the research that I've done, what comes out is we have fallen from being at the top economically in Carter County ...to where we're in the bottom grouping now." He believes that getting workers trained and skilled for quality jobs will bring about a solution to many of the county's other problems. "Bringing in jobs that pay minimum wage and low wages doesn't help us."
   Another issue Gray believes is important is support of the educational process within the elementary/secondary system and post-secondary system, as well as educational training.
   He thinks the biggest financial challenge facing the county is trying to fund necessary services and trying to adequately fund the educational system while having a low per-capita income base and no ability to tax. Until income levels are brought up, he said, "we have to live within our means. As a percent of capita income, we're the second lowest in northeast Tennessee."
   Gray said he doesn't have sufficient information available to make a reasoned judgment call on countywide zoning. "I would want to research it much better. It is intertwined so deeply with the districts that the commissioners in the districts would be a major source of input to me in that issue," he said.
   The former judge also questions the need for more jail space. "If you want to keep more state prisoners, you're going to have to have more jail space. But when you calculate in what it costs you to build a new jail, my suspicion is that the money you get from the state does not justify the expense of building a new jail facility," he said.
   "We have more pressing needs and we can address the problem in a different way, mainly taking care of the county's prisoners and letting the state take care of state prisoners."
   The most important quality for the next county executive, he said, "is going to be his ability to visualize what it's going to require to take a progressive approach for our county and the stamina, education and experience to carry it forward."
   Gray also believes that due to budget constraints, the expense of hiring a finance director would better be delayed. "It's a situation right now where the funds are more needed in other directions. I don't have any problem with knowing that I can handle the accounting part of it. ... Ultimately, it would be something that we should do," he said.
   Gray said many commissioners want more accountability, and as county executive, he would work to bring that through his office. "If they hire a financial director ... I would work with that director to give that information to the commission that they desire and that they should have."