The Hendersonville Chamber of Commerce hosted a mayoral panel last week with candidates Mayor Jamie Clary and Brenda Payne. Devon O’Day, radio personality, emceed the event, and Tena Lee, a reporter at the Hendersonville Standard, asked questions of the candidates. Here are some of the topics the candidates shared their views on. To watch the complete forum, visit the Hendersonville Standard Facebook page.

Payne said she wanted to improve communication at all levels, move economic prosperity forward and strengthen the community fabric for the most vulnerable citizens.

Clary said that Hendersonville can certainly improve, but that the City needs to preserve what it already has. He pointed to several accomplishments as mayor including improving road spending and addressing flooding projects.

Clary said that improving the City’s image, bringing jobs to Hendersonville and building infrastructure were his priorities.

Payne said one of her priorities was to get better communication on BOMA. She said she wanted to do strategic planning with BOMA, something she said hadn’t been done in years.

She also talked about bringing jobs to Hendersonville and supporting what she thought were the most vulnerable groups in the community – seniors, those with special needs and youth.

Responsible development

Clary said that the City needed to look at the data in development, saying the City spends around $900 per person who moves into Hendersonville, while it only receives $500 per person through taxes.

“We have to catch up with our infrastructure first. We can’t continue to add new houses when it’s a $400 deficit every time somebody new moves into Hendersonville,” he said.

Payne said that business development is “job one” so that commercial property and residential property tax income remain high.

She also said that “rooftops are important” because businesses come to Hendersonville for the people that are here. She said it was important to build infrastructure at the same time as residential developments.

“That’s been the problem for years,” she said. “We’ve just let those things come after the fact.”

Role of the mayor with a city administrator

Payne said she had started running before the CA decision was made but that it was her goal to honor the citizens’ committee that had made the recommendation and that she would let the new Board members make a decision moving forward.

She said the mayor’s role was to be doing higher level positions like strategic planning with the Board, branding and doing “visioning” things for the city.

“I can do both of those things. It doesn’t really matter to me whether we have a CA or don't’ have a CA quite honestly because I’ve done all of those things,” she said.

Clary on the other hand, said that reversing the CA decision was one of the most important things he could do after the election. He mentioned the concerns he had heard from voters and said the experiment had failed and that this election was an opportunity to have a referendum on the CA.

“I don’t want a city administrator any longer, and if you don’t, please vote for me,” Clary said.

Payne used one of her rebuttal periods after this speech and said that the election was not a referendum on the CA, but rather a referendum on who has the best skills to lead. She pointed out that the CA position has worked well in other cities in the region and that the position allowed the city to run in a way that saves money.

“It is not taking power away from the mayor at all,” she said.

Clary mentioned a study that said that mayors with a CA worked part-time. Clary said that currently he was currently working at least 45 hours a week. He also said the salary change ($100,000 down to $42,000) was completely arbitrary and there was no study in issues at what other mayoral salaries are and what the responsibilities are.

Strained relationships on BOMA

Payne said that it was important to “take the temperature down” on the Board. She mentioned that she was not a career politician and would not bring any political baggage to the city. She said she had chaired the Shalom Zone board twice and had built consensus about building a new gymnasium for the organization.

Clary said that it was very often that mayors would vote in the minority or alone because of their different perspective. He mentioned several examples of building consensus on BOMA including unanimously passing a new zoning ordinance, rebuilding the firehall and addressing flooding problems.

Trash pickup woes

Trash pickup changed in 2019 from twice-weekly curb pickup to weekly back-door pickup paid for by the City. Some businesses who pay for their own trash collection have felt that the burden to pay for trash pickup through taxes was unfair.

Clary agreed that the trash pickup had been an unfair tax on businesses. He said that Hendersonville’s previous trash pickup program had been a model for other cities for 40 years.

He said that Hendersonville had lost one thing that had attracted businesses.

Payne said the trash pickup was an example of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” She said that the City had cut the service in half and didn’t listen, plan, communicate or execute well.

She said she would always be against business taxes when the businesses were not getting services.

Clary said the City couldn’t renegotiate or cancel the contract but that the contract needed to be enforced. When Waste Pro skips a house, they can be fined $50. Clary said the CA refused to enforce the contract.

“We will get better trash service when they understand we’re gonna enforce that contract,” Clary said.

Payne said she had never seen a contract that couldn’t be renegotiated and that she would bring it back up to the new BOMA. She said she would bring Waste Pro to the table so they could understand the expectation.

Clary said that the City had saved between $1.5 and $1.75 million dollars with the contract.

“If you want to do something more expensive, I have to ask, ‘How do you pay for that?’” he said.

Citywide recycling

Both Payne and Clary said they were passionate about recycling. Clary said he was the first mayor of Hendersonville to try a recycling pilot program but that a lot had changed in the industry in the 18 months the pilot was live.

He said the City could not absorb the cost and that he was not willing to raise taxes for a recycling program.

Payne wanted to talk to Goodlettsville city officials to see how their recycling program worked. She also mentioned local small businesses that could provide recycling services.

Long-pending projects

Several large transportation projects that had dragged on for over a decade including traffic light synchronization and a connector road at the Saundersville Road railroad crossing were discussed.

Payne said that the City had to continue to push to have relationships at the state and county levels to collaborate and push projects ahead. She said she was always willing to call people who are influential in making things happen.

Clary again pointed out his partnerships with TDOT and the state legislative delegation. He said that the synchronization project was frustrating because of a TDOT error in 2015 but that it was getting back on track. He said that when the state or national government handled the money, the City had to work on that timeframe.

Other important projects

Clary talked about considering needs versus wants and that most of the time he would have to choose better roads and infrastructure. However, he said that the Sanders Ferry Greenway was very important to him. He said it would help businesses along the Greenway and help bring jobs and revenue to the City.

He also mentioned his work with schools and the S’MORE summer reading camp he started that was supported by businesses instead of taxes. He said he wanted all Hendersonville schools to be rated a 10 on GreatSchools.org.

Payne said that her most important project would be paving roads as residents had continually mentioned this issue to her. She said some had not been paved in over 35 years. She said the City needed to find a way to develop grant funding or find ways to pull additional bonding for paving.

Challenges

Payne said that fixing what she called the ‘disfunction’ on BOMA would be her biggest challenge.

“What’s happening today is our image is being tarnished because folks are looking at what’s happening there,” she said.

Clary said that his biggest challenge was that people want and expect more from city government. He said that it’s tough to satisfy everybody and that the City can’t please everybody. He said the City had to look at wants versus needs and the costs of amenities people wanted. He said his proposal of impact fees would have helped with some of the wants and needs but that it had failed in BOMA.

“We really have to maintain what we have, and we have to determine the needs from the wants,” he said.

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