Tipton County candidates running in the general election Aug. 2 got a chance to get their message out to the public Thursday night at Dyersburg State Community College-Jimmy Naifeh Center in Covington.

The Covington-Tipton County Chamber of Commerce hosted the Tipton County Candidate Forum, during which those running in contested races got two minutes for a general message before answering prepared questions.

Maleia Evans, the chamber's executive director, said letters were sent to everybody on the August ballot the first week of June and had until June 15 to reserve their spot in Thursday's event.

Sixteen people running for county commissioner and three for school board took part in the main portion of the forum. Three people running uncontested and three more who missed the deadline but were at the event also spoke.

About 120 people attended the event.

Evans said she was happy with the attendance and the participation.

"It's important, especially in a small community, for voters to be informed ... what the positions are, what the philosophies are of the candidates who are going to be making decisions about the future for their community," she said.

County commissioners and school board members sat at a table in groups and delivered their messages. During the Q and A, each stood up and spoke.

General message

Tommy Dunavant, the incumbent county commissioner in District 2, is looking for a fourth term.

"I want to continue the progress we've made and go way beyond that," he said.

Mike Naifeh, a challenger in District 2, said he's running "because I think it's time for some fresh ideas in public safety."

Richard Kelley, who is running for District 3 commissioner as a Republican, said President Donald Trump inspires him.

John Delancey, the incumbent District 4 commissioner, talked about the county's plans to become debt free and lauded the fact that the county now has its own fire department.

Mike Sterling, the other District 4 incumbent, talked about being born and raised in the Rosemark area and the fact that he has been on the commission since 1994.

Stephen Shopher, Walker Adams and John Harber are challenging those two in District 4. Harber and Adams are both running as Republicans.

Adams' main talking points were public safety and infrastructure.

Harber said, "I believe in an engaged life. It's time to give back some of what I've received."

Shopher said he believes there is a "lack of communication and presence" in the community.

Glenn Turner and Bob Wilson are the two incumbent county commissioners in District 5. Wilson talked about the county's clean audit, jail expansion and the new county library. Turner said he decided to run to help the county become debt free: "If that doesn't excite you, I don't know what will."

Michelle Smith, a Republican challenger for commissioner in District 6, said the Megasite wastewater pipeline running through Tipton County inspired her to run. Residents in the Randolph community opposed the discharge site in their community and it was ultimately moved.

Courtney Fee, an incumbent county commissioner in District 7, presented three things she thinks are important for a commissioner: someone who serves the public, being a member of a team and having a connection to constituents.

All three of the people running for county commissioner in District 9 - incumbent Dale Smith, Republican incumbent Jonathan Murphy and challenger David Copeland - were on hand.

"Listen to people, listen to what they say," Murphy said.

Smith described himself as a "conservative businessman with pro-active ideas."

Said Copeland: "I'm not running for one party ... when you call me, I won't ask what party you're in."

Chris Armstrong, a Republican challenger for county commissioner in District 8, talked about litter prevention and school safety as priorities.

Allison Gibson (District 2), Darry Marshall (4) and Blake Sawyer (4), all challengers, were the only three school board candidates who took part in the main event.

Gibson described herself as an active parent and substitute teacher. Marshall talked about offering "leadership, vision and support for new Director of Schools John Combs.

Sawyer said, "I know the endless hours teachers put in they don't credit for."

Chris Fisher (constable, District 2), Teresa Cantrell (school board, District 6) and James Lamont Sneed (incumbent commissioner, District 8) spoke separately. There was no format for the constable races and Sneed and Cantrell missed the deadline to take part in the main event.

Fisher talked about the abuse law enforcement officers endure. Cantrell spoke about the need for mental health professionals in the school system and Sneed talked about public safety and education.

Q and A

Four questions for the commission candidates and three for the school board candidates were put in a bowl and each person drew one. The candidates were sent the questions in advance.

One question for commission candidates asked what Tipton County's greatest challenge is concerning its workforce.

Dunavant and Murphy talked about continuing high school dual enrollment classes with Tennessee College of Applied Technology and Richard Kelley said more students need to leave high school with job skills. Delancey talked about the value of earning an associate's degree from DSCC and Sterling stressed the importance of a GED program that is offered in jail. Armstrong said it's important to identify what interests high school students and lead them in that direction and Turner said finding out exactly what local industries need is crucial.

Said Copeland: "It used to be you needed a strong back for factories. Now you need a strong mind."

Another question asked candidates what they would do with a $1 million grant.

Naifeh was the only candidate who drew that question and said workforce development would be his choice.

Harber, Shopher, Michelle Smith and Sneed drew a question about infrastructure needs and capital projects.

Shopher said safety for citizens should come first and Harber talked about the need for a new bridge on Meade Lake Road in Atoka. Smith said something needs to be done about traffic on Rosemark Road and Sneed stressed the need for an east-west corridor.

Dale Smith, Adams, Wilson and Fee fielded a question asking if new construction or rehabbing existing structures is more important.

All four said both are important.

Adams said, "New is pretty, old is beautiful."

Wilson pointed out that new home construction brings in jobs and generates sales tax revenue and Fee said many historic structures are part of what makes the county special. Smith said it depends what part of the county you're talking about.

As for school board candidates, Gibson and Sawyer answered a question about the importance of technical training.

Gibson said she's "worried when baby boomers retire who is going to fix plumbing and electrical."

"Not everyone is college-bound," Sawyer said. "Some have to go straight to work."

Marshall drew question that asked what he would do with a $1 million grant. He said making schools safe would be the best way to spend it.

Others who spoke

Three candidates who are running unopposed - Pancho Chumley (sheriff), Shelia Barlow (District 1 commissioner) and Charlotte Kelley (District 32 state executive committeewoman) - also spoke.

Who wasn't there?

Fifteen people running for county commissioner, all but one of whom are involved in contested races, did not attend the forum. Two people involved in contested school board racers did not show.

Wilson was the only candidate who spoke to that.

"I'm disappointed my opponent is not here," he said, referring to Republican candidate Steven Browder. "If you want to be a servant of Tipton County you should be here."

When reached for comment Friday, Browder said a work conflict did not allow him to attend.

"Some of the incumbent commissioners who are opposed were not present," Browder said. "Some of the new challengers for office this year were not there either. Is Commissioner Wilson also challenging their absence and commitment to the constituents they serve?"

What's next?

Evans said the answers to the questions that candidates submitted in writing will be published in next week's chamber newsletter. She also said plans are to hold a another forum in October for the Covington mayor and aldermen race.

Early voting will run July 13-28. For more information click here.

Jeff Ireland is The Leader's sports editor. To contact him, call 901-476-7116 or email jireland@covingtonleader.com.​

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