Mayor takes issue with editorial

A response is in order to the “Our Opinion” piece published in the July 25 edition regarding the referendum for a local sales tax increase for increased school security.

I agree with News Editor Jonathan Herrmann’s column in the Feb. 21 edition when he stated with regard to school safety, “simply put, it’s time to act.” It certainly is time to act. We need the presence of more School Resource Officers, perimeter fencing for Lenoir City High School, upgraded fencing at other schools, upgraded electronic doors, video security, keyless entry, badges and more detailed background checks on all staff and visitors.

Perhaps one of the most important and costly needs is that of social workers and nursing staff. Professionals focusing on emotional and behavioral health of students are currently spread very thin due to heavy workload and demand. Statistics show that prevention is a major component in dealing with issues that may evolve into a violent situation in the school, threatening harm to those in and around the area. The availability of behavioral health professionals in the schools will help with prevention and mitigation.

An important item that was not explained in your editorial is that in order to place the local sales tax question on the referendum, we had a short period of time to actually get it on the ballot for the citizens to decide. State law requires notice of any referendum nearly four months prior to the election for which the question will be placed on the ballot. After having two detailed School Safety Task Force meetings with school staff, faculty, students, city administration, police and a representative of the District Attorney General’s office, we moved forward with a joint public workshop with the Lenoir City Board of Education.

After a decision was made in the joint workshop to give citizens the choice of increasing the local sales tax by a half of one percent, Lenoir City Council voted the same in two additional public meetings with two more public hearings. The outcome is that the citizens will have the choice in November. All of the money generated by the increase will go directly to the school system.

We did not act hastily, but we did act swiftly and responsibly because there was reason to do so. If not, it would have been over a year before the citizens could make the decision.

So, shouldn’t we be doing something? We did. Isn’t it worth it? We certainly believe so, along with the students, parents, faculty and staff of the school system.

Tony Aikens

Lenoir City mayor