Editor’s Note: The following is a series of questions and answers taken verbatim from a Lebanon Democrat questionnaire recently filled out and returned by each candidate in the District 6 Wilson County Commission race. The Democrat will publish the responses from candidates in this and other races leading up to the Aug. 7 general election.
Incumbent Kenneth Reich will face challenger Kevin Graves in the Aug. 7 race for District 6 Wilson County commissioner.
Reich retired from civil service after 30 years, along with 40 years of service in the U.S. Army and Tennessee Army National Guard. He’s a Lebanon High School graduate, attended Middle Tennessee State University and took several leadership courses while in the Army.
Reich has been married to Dona Freeman Reich for 45 years, and the couple has three children, Tiffany Bevis, Kendra Shaffer and Jeremy Reich, and nine grandchildren.
What prompted you to seek office? Was it a personal initiative or did others encourage you?
Reich: While serving with the Army in Baghdad, Iraq in 2003-04, Jeff Joines and I made up our minds that we would run for the Wilson County Commission in 2006 after we returned home. My decision was made to become an active participant in county government and to represent the people of the 6th District. My main objective was to secure better fire protection for the 6th District, along with doing what I could to see that Mt. Juliet provided its own fire protection. I also did not like some of the actions taken by the previous commissions on this subject.
Graves: Since an early age, it has been a passion of mine to seek public office. It was always fascinating to attend political rallies, visit what used to be called “voting houses” that we now refer to as polling places, and to see how the process of government works. I have known for some time that I wanted to do this and have felt a calling to do so at this time. Since 2011, I have been working hard to fulfill this lifelong dream of mine to seek public office by representing the 6th District where I live and firmly believe to be the best place to live in this great county. In addition, I have been listening to the great people of this community and their current concerns and decided that this is the time to seek this office.
What are the most important issues in your race, and how do you plan to address them?
Reich: I think the most important issue, as always, is education. As fast as this county is growing, additional schools will be needed in the very near future. The commission’s part in this will be how to fund this need, while keeping the property tax as low as possible. This is where it is important to not only know how a bond issue works, but also have the proper people to talk with to help accomplish what is necessary. This commission in the last eight years has built Lebanon and Watertown high schools with only a 3-cent property tax increase. This was accomplished through the reworking of existing bonds at a lower interest rate without extending the length of the bonds.
Graves: All issues are important, particularly when they directly impact the people of the 6th District. I plan to address them with common sense, hard work and good communication, along with the attitude of never giving up.
What would you say to voters opposed to your running for office to convince them you are the most qualified?
Reich: First of all, I would point out that I have eight years of experience. There is more to being a commissioner than just voting. A good commissioner is always thinking of ways to better his district and the county. He must be able to convey these ideas to other commissioners while securing the necessary votes to see these ideas through. I would also want them to note the new fire and ambulance station that was built in the 6th District during my tenure. Being road commissioner, I am also proud of the quality of the roads in the 6th District.
Graves: Qualifications don’t necessarily come with a warranty. How do you become qualified to be a commissioner? First of all, some of the best elected officials, past and present, have “learned on the job.” Their first-hand experience came after the election was over, in most cases. The first qualification is to have a heart for my community and a desire to represent them to the best of my ability. In addition, I have worked for, and with, both city and county governments in years past, thereby having knowledge of the inner workings from another prospective.
What do you bring to the table that your opponent does not?
Reich: I bring experience and commitment.
Not only do I have eight years of experience on the county commission, I also have 40 years of experience in leading people while a member of the U.S. Army and the Tennessee National Guard. My number of years as first sergeant enabled me to communicate with people effectively, share ideas and solve problems.
During my tenure, I have earned the respect of my fellow commissioners and county department heads. I also understand the county budget and the different money that makes up the county budget.
Graves: I will be bringing a fresh and new approach to the 6th District voters. Sometimes, politics, and special interests, cloud decision-making and the real purpose for being in an elected position. Oftentimes, elected officials become more of a “career politician” than a representative of their people. Incumbents may promise to do more if only “four more years” are granted them. This is said by those politicians to obtain votes and is sometimes a hollow promise. Those who have been in office, have a chance every day to make a difference, and the results will show or not, whatever is the case. More time in office by an incumbent does not always translate to better serving those they were elected to represent. The sole purpose of being the commissioner of the 6th District is to represent the needs of the people. My only agenda is to treat each constituent fairly and equally and to conduct myself in a manner that will make them proud of electing me as their county commissioner.
How is your experience or lack of experience a plus or a minus for the position you are seeking?
Reich: It takes a new commissioner at least working through one budget process to completely understand the workings of the county. I have completed eight years and understand the operations of the county. I was elected by my fellow commissioners as a road commissioner for Zone 1. If I were not re-elected, it is a very good chance my successor would not be road commissioner. I also serve on several vital committees, such as law enforcement, EMA, Ag Center, and chairman of the Insurance Committee. I have built a good working relationship with other commissioners that enables me to get things done.
Graves: Since this will be my first experience seeking public office, I have a lot to learn, but I have the desire to learn all I can and to meet the challenges placed before me. I am a quick learner, and I consider myself a problem solver and a people person with good communication skills, all needed attributes for serving the people of my district. I think the plus side is that I have a willingness to go the extra mile and to seek out solutions in a timely and efficient manner.