Hughes expects results beyond campaign promises

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   John W. Hughes wants campaign promises and good ideas to be made reality in his campaign for a seat on the Elizabethton City Council.
   "I honestly think better communications between the county and city governments are an absolute must," said Hughes, 57, who has lived in Carter County for the past 34 years. "Hopefully, with a new county executive, a lot of new county commissioners and with a new city council, we can cooperate more.
   "It has always been a campaign promise that the city and county would cooperate more, but they are really not cooperating as much as they should or could."
   Retired from the U.S. Postal Service, Hughes is one of eight candidates running for a seat on the City Council.
   He said the primary problem he saw in the city's immediate future was the ability to keep our city schools up to the high standards they currently enjoy, given the city and state budget situations.
   "I am mainly concerned over the way the city government is being run right now," said Hughes, who previously served on the City Council from 1981 to 1985. "The way our leadership in Nashville is failing us, I am worried about the local economy."
   Paramount to Hughes' concerns was holding down the city's property tax rate and water and sewer rates.
   "We can't attract people with higher taxes," he said. "There are a lot of ways to save money and I'll definitely do that when elected."
   In the 17 years since he served on the Council, Hughes said he had seen the city change with some improvements coming faster than others.
   "Our schools have continued to improve," he said. "We've attracted some industry but not nearly enough. We need to get some industrial recruiting going really big."
   Hughes said he "hated to criticize" economic development officials now, but added that "it doesn't seem like we're making much progress. It seems like all we're doing now is selling stuff. We're not manufacturing anything."
   The city's geography created limitations on buying or identifying large sections of land for industrial growth. However, he also said huge buildings and tracts of land did exist inside the city that were not being utilized.
   "There is a lot of land inside the city that is not being used," he said. "We have these plants down here sitting totally idle."
   A frustrating scenario Hughes said he had experienced was seeing his own children receive good education in Elizabethton City Schools only to leave the area for jobs.
   "I have four children," said Hughes. "All four are grown and married and only one lives locally now and that child works in Bristol. We have good schools, we educate them well, and then they leave the area. We need some industry here so they can make a good living."
   At a public auction held in September, the city and county purchased the old hospital building. The owner has a one year grace period to pay off delinquent property taxes plus a 10 percent penalty to reclaim the property.
   Hughes also said he would like to see the old hospital building leveled and see some medical development, if the city and county became the owners.
   "I think Elizabethton is in reasonably good shape, but that doesn't mean it can't be improved," said Hughes of the city's administration. "The city manager and all of his staff should be accountable and take care of themselves because they are valuable assets to this community."
   Tennessee Department of Transportation officials conducted a public hearing Oct. 8 on the Northern Connector -- the 4.1 mile, $28 million five-lane highway project that will divert traffic from West Elk Avenue to the north side of the Watauga River.
   Hughes said he was wary of the Connector's influence on the city.
   "It will alleviate a lot of the traffic problems," said Hughes, "but I also see it alleviating a lot of traffic into Elizabethton, bypassing Elizabethton straight to Johnson City, that will hurt us on our sales tax.
   "We do have terrible traffic problems here but we may overlook some traffic problems as long as we can raise revenue," he added.
   The city's recent annexations of property in west Carter County has brought in new properties and hundreds of county residents into Elizabethan's corporate boundaries.
   "If the city does not grow it will die," said Hughes. "The city must be able to deliver the services. If we can't deliver the services, we shouldn't annex just as a revenue grabbing tool."
   He also felt tourism was a new industry waiting to be taken advantage of by the city and county. Tourism provided a "moneymaking opportunity" that the county's historical and natural resources offer a lot to travelers.
   Hughes is retired from the U.S. Postal Service. A lifetime member of the Carter County Rescue Squad and Little League baseball coach, Hughes said his previous council experience coupled with his decades of community involvement gave him an edge as a candidate.
   "The people are the best people in Upper East Tennessee," he said. "I'm proud to be an Elizabethtonian."