By LANDON WOODROOF
The Williamson County Primary Election will be held on May 1. This is the day that Williamson County voters will choose which County Commission candidates they want to be on the ballot for the County General Election, which will be held on Aug. 2.
Each of Williamson County’s 12 districts has two county commissioners representing it. In the primary election, two candidates from each political affiliation will be selected to appear on the general election ballot. If a political party has two or fewer candidates, those candidates will automatically get through the primary stage and on to the general election ballot.
County Commissioners serve four-year terms.
Today we look at the candidates for Williamson County Commission District 8.
Growth is the main issue that Melissa Miles is concerned about as she seeks a District 8 seat on the Williamson County Commission.
While more people and businesses moving to the county can be an economic boon, it also puts stress on schools and infrastructure. Miles wants to help the county respond to that stress in a beneficial way.
“Basically, I feel we need common sense solutions that will provide safer communities, more competitive schools and more efficient infrastructure,” she said.
To Miles, an essential part of any common sense solution will be to control county spending.
“We need to spend more wisely rather than simply spending more,” she said.
One avenue she wants to pursue would be to seek more outside funding for Williamson County Schools.
“I’m going to work hard to assist the county’s effort to encourage state and federal officials to change outdated policies and help increase our school funding,” she said.
Miles has not served in public office before, but she has been involved with politics. She was chairman of the Rutherford County Young Republicans in the late 1990s and, more recently, she has volunteered on congressional campaigns and served as an alternate delegate for Donald Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
That love of politics has led Miles to become passionate about encouraging greater political participation among the public.
“Basically, I really want to help engage our county residents to become more involved or actively involved in local politics so that they can vote and voice their opinions,” she said.
As for her own burgeoning political career, Miles said that her choice to run was a calling as much as a decision.
“The call to serve this dynamic and talented county is very humbling, and it’s very inspiring to me to help this county continue to succeed,” she said.
Professionally, Miles has a background in both marketing and in handling regulatory affairs related to clinical research trials.
She has two grown sons, Daniel and Bryce, and she has lived in Williamson County since 2000, although she grew up nearby and would visit often growing up.
Miles is running as a Republican.
Jerry Rainey does not claim to have all the answers to Williamson County’s problems, but he feels that his professional background and his open mind can make him an asset to the County Commission.
Rainey has 45 years’ worth of experience in the insurance industry.
“I’ve had employees, and I know what it takes to build a business,” Rainey, who had his own insurance agency, said.
He sees that time spent in the business world as valuable in a number of ways, including the focus it gave him on managing the bottom line.
“I think we have to be fiscally responsible,” he said. “I know I’ve had to be that way as a businessman for all these years.”
Rather than running on any single issue, Rainey hopes just to be able to serve the people of Williamson County and foster dialogue between them and their local government.
“I think we have a wonderful county,” he said. “I’m glad to be here, and I’m just willing to go to the meetings, listen to the people and listen to what’s important to the people and carry on meaningful discussion at the commission level.”
Not that Rainey does not care deeply about some specific issues like growth, for instance.
“I do have strong feelings about development that’s happening, what kind of burden it will put on the rest of the community,” he said. “I’m very interested in how that’s approached.”
With Commissioner Jack Walton stepping down, Rainey simply thought it was the right time to try his hand at running.
“I just want to keep the momentum we have with an eye toward being as efficient as possible and making sure we can be out ahead of surprises if we can be,” he said.
Rainey and his wife, Linda, have lived in Williamson County for 40 years. They have two daughters, Cayce and Brooke, and five grandchildren.
Rainey has previously served on the boards of several non-profits over the years, including Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary in Brentwood.
He hopes as many people as possible will get out to vote this season.
“I’m pushing for a good turnout so people will understand if you don’t vote you missed your chance to influence it,” he said.
Rainey is running as a Republican.
Barb Sturgeon moved to Williamson County in 2010 and within four years, for the first time in her life decided to run for elected office. She won her current seat as a District 8 commissioner in 2014.
“My issues were transparency and keeping the public informed and engaged in local government,” she said.
She had not ever really intended to run for office, but when she got to Williamson County her kids were a little bit older and more independent and the former chemical engineer felt she could devote more of her time to learning about politics.
Since that time, Sturgeon has done her best to make sure that she stays as connected to her constituents as possible.
“I just believe government runs best when those people locally are involved,” she said.
One of the ways she has tried to stay engaged has been through putting out a regular newsletter informing her constituents of what topics will be discussed at County Commission meetings. She sends out one letter before each meeting and one after, which comes out to about 18 newsletters a year.
Sturgeon plans on continuing that push for community engagement and government transparency should she get reelected.
“I like serving people,” she said.
She is also intent on helping to solve the county’s financial problems.
“I’m all for creative solutions on how we raise revenue,” Sturgeon said. “Of course, the county is growing and growth does not pay for itself, and we’re going to have to figure out how to fund that.”
As for ideas on how to come up with extra funds, Sturgeon said she is open to creative options.
“It’s good to think out of the box and try to come up with revenue streams,” she said. She acknowledged that state law gives counties the power to raise property taxes as a primary source of revenue, but she said she would support that option only after all other avenues have been exhausted.
Sturgeon and her husband, Robert, have been married for 33 years. They have four children, Nick, Madeline, Alexandra and Elizabeth, and one grandchild.
Sturgeon is running as a Republican.
To Kenneth Townsend, the county budget is more than just a set of numbers or financial priorities. It has a deeper meaning.
“I believe the county budget is a moral document and is a statement of Williamson Countians’ values,” he said.
Values are something Townsend thinks about a lot. He is a United Methodist minister who has pastored two churches for the past five years, New Bethel United Methodist and Centenary United Methodist.
He has several ideas for how those values can be reflected in the County Commission’s work.
“I believe in committing to logic and reason and looking…at every possible solution we could find to fully funding our schools, ensuring that infrastructure keeps up with development and that our environment is protected,” he said.
On the subject of schools, Townsend wants the county to look at all possible sources of revenue for school funding. He also favors pursuing public and private partnerships when appropriate.
His concern about development is tied in with his concern for the environment. He wants to make sure that the county is developed in a way that is as environmentally responsible as possible.
Townsend has a background in Democratic politics, having previously worked as the press secretary for the Tennessee House of Representatives Democratic caucus and serving on the executive committee of the Williamson County Democratic Party.
Townsend said he is no ideologue, though.
“I’m very much into compromising, very much into finding common solutions with the other commissioners and the mayor and other county officials as needed,” he said.
That being said, he feels it is very important for the County Commission to represent a diversity of views. He said he has met many Williamson County voters who feel disenfranchised, who feel their sentiments are not represented in local government.
“I’m just in there to bring a different perspective and to try to bring a different political point of view to the political process,” he said. “I believe that one-party government is inherently anti-democratic and that the voters should have a choice.”
Townsend is the father of two daughters, Caitlin and Ellie, who both attend Williamson County public schools.