By Richard Rourk
Residents of the Town of Erwin had the opportunity to hear from candidates in the upcoming mayoral and aldermen races thanks to a forum presented by the Unicoi County Republican Party on Thursday, Sept. 10, at Erwin Town Hall.
Moderator Jim Buchanan hit the three mayoral and four aldermen candidates with questions that gave insight as to why the candidates are running and what their visions are for Erwin.
For the three candidates running for retiring Mayor Doris Hensley’s seat on Nov. 3, the answer to why they are running was simple.
According to mayoral candidate Michael Baker, a current Erwin alderman, the reason he is running is to continue the work that the current BMA has begun.
“I want to see Erwin continue on this positive path of growth,” Baker said. “I have been on this board in our darkest days. I am the only candidate that serves on the (Joint Economic Development Board), and I feel that is important. I own a small business so I know the struggles of our local businesses. In my full-time job, I work as a real estate agent and see firsthand the need for housing in our town. I’d love to see more housing in Erwin and as mayor I will push for a new subdivision in town.”
Among Baker’s concerns is the need for more quality jobs with good pay.
“I’d love to see more businesses throughout the town,” Baker said. “We would benefit by having businesses on both the north and south sides of the town. I would love more industry. I hope to see some great company or companies settle in at the Second Street industrial site that is currently pad ready.”
According to Baker, he is the candidate that will continue the momentum of the town.
“I would like to think back six to seven years ago and remember what we have done in that time,” Baker says. “We have free WiFi downtown, two new parks and numerous upgrades to our downtown and surrounding areas. We have developed Food City, Bojangles and Pal’s. We have been recognized by NPR and ETSU, who is actually having a program that will study the Town of Erwin’s growth and how we were able to accomplish so much in such little time. As mayor, I will continue to build upon this growth.”
For mayoral candidate Cathy Huskins, who currently works for the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce, her message was simple.
“I want to be the voice for the voiceless. My main goal is to serve the people of Erwin,” Huskins said. “I believe that the power of people is greater than the people in power. When decisions are being made all shareholders should have a voice.”
According to Huskins, the need to bridge the gap among the citizens in Erwin is a must.
“There is so much division currently and I would work to have every one represented,” Huskins said. “The citizens on the north and south ends feel slighted, so I will listen to them and include them in the process.”
For Huskins, focus on the needs of all is a must for the next mayor.
“We need good paying jobs,” Huskins said. “I will continue to work on what’s in place and work harder to move these objectives forward for all the people. I will continue to be a universal voice for the town.”
Mayor candidate Glenn White, who currently served as a Unicoi County commissioner, has a simple vision for the town.
“I believe one of the greatest qualities that a public servant can possess is the ability to compromise,” White said. “That is the key to success. I enjoy people and will reach out to people to create solutions for the betterment of people.”
For White, looking to God for guidance and following Christian values is key to having a successful mayoral run.
“I have had more failures than successes in my life,” White said. “I have learned from my mistakes and will use those lessons I’ve learned moving forward. I want Erwin to retain its innocence in a world in turmoil. I want to have our city to continue in our Christian heritage. We are hometown USA. We must leave Erwin better for our youth. We inherited the Valley Beautiful and we need to keep it that way. We need business and jobs. We have one of the best worksite locations in the state. Tyler Engle has been instrumental in this and he is to be commended. I would work with the JEDB to have industrial sites ready and bring in industry. We are losing our brightest and youngest.”
In closing, White acknowledged that all of the candidates have Erwin’s best interests in mind.
“I consider my two opponents friends,” White said. “If either of them win, I will support them.”
The race for the two Town of Erwin aldermen seats includes a field of four.
Paula Kay Edwards, a Unicoi County High School science teacher, feels that her experiences will guide her to a successful run as alderwoman.
“I have a master’s and bachelor’s degree and I am currently working on completing a business degree at Carson Newman,” Edwards said. “I am a published author and my studies have included local water samples of Unicoi County. I am a listener and will listen to all of our citizens. It is important that we listen and build our town up.”
For Edwards, years of experience have been gained by watching her father, recently retired Alderman Gary Edwards.
“I have been moved to run to continue the work laid out by my father,” Edwards said. “My vision for Erwin is a better quality of life for our citizens. I will work with others to bring good-paying jobs here. I will work to ensure our citizens safety. I would love to see Erwin continue to be made beautiful and fix our roads and sidewalks. I will work on necessary grants for funding to improve Erwin. I love my hometown.”
James M. “Mickey” Hatcher, who served many years in the Unicoi County School System and on the Unicoi County Commission, also felt moved to run after being contacted by the citizens of Erwin.
“When approached to run, I had to look at what the issues were and how to fix them,” Hatcher said. “We want to keep jobs here and bring more in. We all agree on this, but we may not agree on the way to get there. I think we can all work together to find the best way forward.”
According to Hatcher, a successful civil servant must have strong morals.
“I have conservative values and beliefs and I would bring these into office with me,” Hatcher said. “I want to see my grandchildren grow up and remain here. We want to maintain the sense of community and to do right by each other. We need those values. Let’s continue to make Erwin great again.”
For current Alderwoman Rachelle Hyder-Shurtz, the path forward for Erwin is to build upon the current successes.
“As a board we have already seen change,” Hyder-Shurtz said. “We are replacing police cruisers and fire trucks. Those things are replaced to ensure our safety. I’m glad to report that we have completed planning on Fishery Park and we are in the process of landing grants to complete that project. We have 18 roads in the city limits that we will start to repair as early as mid-October. We have secured grants that will go to fixing our sidewalks.”
According to Hyder-Shurtz, her experience will serve her in the future.
“I’ve had experience in this position for more than three years,” Hyder-Shurtz said. “I have committed to our success story. I have those leadership skills needed to fight for what’s best for Erwin. Every time we come to the table I want to use those experiences to bring back jobs to our city and create a safe place to live. I want my children to grow up proud of where they come from.”
For alderman candidate and current North Ridge Community Church Erwin Campus worship pastor Gary Schwenke, the time was right to run for office and serve as a unifier.
“I agree with Rachelle (Hyder-Shurtz) and I have worked on many of the projects in the back end,” Schwenke said. “I am running because of my love of this town. I want to ensure there are things here to keep our youth here and to grow as a community. I want to work with the Town of Unicoi and Unicoi County to provide growth in the region.”
According to Schwenke, the Town of Erwin should be focusing on using Erwin’s natural resources to promote growth.
“My vision is progress,” Schwenke said. “I would love to see our outdoor assets being utilized. We have the Appalachian Trail running into town. We have the Nolichucky (River). People come from all over to raft or hike here. These resources are untapped. When we tap into those resources, those visitors will eat here, shop here, stay here and that benefits the town.”
Residents of Erwin will be able to decide a new mayor and two aldermen on Nov. 3.
For more info about the candidates and to hear all of their comments and qualifications, please visit Unicoi County Republican Party on Facebook to view a recording of last week’s public forum.