With the Nov. 3 election around the corner and early voting ongoing, Lenoir City Council could soon see changes.
Mayor Tony Aikens is running unopposed, but there are six candidates vying for the three available councilmen seats.
Candidates include incumbents Eddie Simpson and Jennifer Wampler, former councilmen Mike Henline and David Cole and newcomers Todd Kennedy and Steve Shoemaker.
Simpson, who has served on council since 1999, believes the city is moving in a “good direction.”
“Mainly, my goal I guess is to continue to get better roads and just a better system in the city,” Simpson said. “And, of course, be able to pull in any grants or anything like that we can get, and I’ve been on the council for a while and for the last 15 years I’ve served on the budget committee and the purchasing committee and acted as chairman on all those things. I’ve been police commissioner now for probably 10 or 12 years. I really concentrate on safety for our residents.”
Since taking over the position vacated by the death of her husband four years ago, Wampler has championed building up downtown. She said she wants downtown Lenoir City to become a “destination” and capture more traffic from U.S. Highway 321.
Wampler also wants to see residential growth. She said the city has a “high-end” apartment complex planned, which she hopes will bring more tax revenue for local schools.
“Mainly, I just want our economy to continue to grow,” Wampler said. “I know working under the mayor, we have not raised taxes in like, I want to say almost 20 years, but we are the second lowest in the state. We fall only behind Sevierville in taxes, on property taxes, and a lot of people don’t realize that. We run our city with approximately with — I think almost 80% of our taxation goes to schools. So we run our city on that small amount. We’re very, very good at how we spend it.”
Henline also wants to bring more people into Lenoir City. He wants to ensure the quality of life in the city remains high so residents of other states continue to relocate.
Henline served on the Lenoir City Board of Education for 12 years before serving a term on the council.
“I guess it’s my experience of being on a school board for so long and then being on city council and then my experience of knowing how things work and getting things done with grants and things such as that and realizing it takes a long time, it takes a while,” Henline said. “You just have to be persistent in whatever project you’re looking for. Like that project they’re doing by Kingston Pike Baptist Church, that road project. We’ve worked on that for years trying to get that all lined up, and it’s finally happening now. It just takes time to do those things.”
Cole served less than a full term because he moved outside of the city limits. He said the current council has been making poor decisions.
“I come back this time because some of the decisions made, I really don’t agree with,” Cole said. “I have an opinion, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely right. When you spend money for the city, and you spend it for things that have to be done, but you do something new, you want it to benefit as many people as possible. I don’t think that’s been done. ... I think it’s just not spent the right way to benefit the right people.”
Kennedy and Shoemaker have run in previous elections and believe it’s time for change.
Kennedy’s initial run was two years ago in the 2018 general election where he lost by 11 votes. When he saw Councilman Bobby Johnson Sr. wasn’t seeking reelection, he decided the timing was right and “felt the desire to serve the city.”
“We’ve had a lot of the same council members on there for many years so I think a lot of people are looking for change,” Kennedy said. “They’re looking for a new vision, a younger perspective, which I can bring to the table. … I’m looking to bring an outside view to local government that we’ve not had in a long time because we’ve had the same people serving for many, many years. I’m looking to provide transparency, an increased level of citizen participation in local government to make sure that everyone’s voices are being heard, and also I’m experienced with development. I’d like to make sure development is done in a sustainable and responsible way that benefits the community.”
Shoemaker ran in the last election but said he didn’t “give it a good effort.” This year, however, he’s going to fight for his seat.
“A lot of people have talked to me. I’ve talked to them,” Shoemaker said. “We’ve had some hard times this year with this COVID, and I think the country is just going in the wrong direction. As far as the newcomers that are running, I don’t think it would be a bad thing for new ears, new eyes to open up and see if there can’t be a change.”
He wants council to listen to and focus on the people. He said that isn’t happening.
“The politics in Lenoir City, it’s all politics. It’s all politicians,” Shoemaker said. “There’s no ‘no’ votes. It’s all ‘yes’ votes. They all come together, and they never get exactly what all the people are talking about. I’m not here for no praise, nothing, not the money. … Most of the money that comes from city council, I’m going to give it to an organization in Loudon County or Lenoir City that needs it. I know everybody’s been going through these hard times, so I just want to reach out and do a little something back for them but also give them someone they can talk to that’s not a politician.”