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 12 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.
With longtime Commissioner Billy Rowland announcing he won’t seek another term, the race for the District 12 seat remains wide open with three candidates – Terry Ashe, Terry McPeak and John Szente – eyeing a successful election.
Ashe is a graduate of the University of Tennessee’s certified public administration program, holding certification in every phase of county government in Tennessee. Ashe previously served and protected the people of Wilson County for 41 years. Thirty of those years, he served as sheriff. He currently serves as the executive director of the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association with state headquarters in Lebanon. He works will all 95 county, municipal and state officials. Ashe holds associate and bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice administration.
Ashe and his wife, Beth, life on their farm off Holloway Road, which provides them a means to continue their love of horses, cattle, dogs and agriculture. They have three children, two grandchildren and are members of Immanuel Baptist Church.
Ashe is active in promoting programs to assist veterans as a three-time Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient, as well as receiving numerous other commendations from the Vietnam War.
McPeak graduated from Lebanon High School and is a journeyman lineman, certified arborist and certified utility specialist with numerous continuing training classes completed. He has worked with Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corp. for 36 years in various positions.
He’s a trustee with the Norene Community Center and Fairview Cemetery, on the Wilson County Fair executive committee, a board member with Leadership Wilson and DeKalb Telephone Corp. and DTC Wireless. McPeak is also a member of Fall Creek Baptist Church, the Wilson County Cattleman’s Association and Tennessee Cattleman’s Association.
He’s married to Helen McPeak, and the couple has three sons, Justin, Luke and Travis McPeak.
Szente has worked as a senior manager in IT procurement and vendor management for Asurion in Nashville for the past four years. Before that, he worked in a similar role at Healthways in Franklin for more than four years. When he moved to Tennessee in 2000, Szente worked for Charter Media in Murfreesboro as a regional manager in the technology group in the southeast.
Szente is married to Tracy Szente, and the couple has two children.
What prompted you to seek office? Was it a personal initiative or did others encourage you?
Ashe: Holding an officer of public trust is a serious responsibility for those who seek office. I understand that you have to be accountable. After I was contacted by the commissioner in District 12 and I spoke with him, he asked that I seek the position. I gave it serious consideration and prayer before I made my decision. I really miss the opportunity to help people since leaving the office of sheriff. Families still call and ask for my assistance in all areas of county government on a continual basis. I honestly feel serving the public is still a priority in my life.
McPeak: After Mr. Billy Rowland, who has served as the 12th District commissioner for the past 20 years, announced he was planning to retire, I began to seriously consider running for this office. After talking with many of the people of the 12th District and with their encouragement, I made the decision to ask the people of the 12th District to allow me to represent them on the commission. This is something that I would like to do for my community, and I was encouraged by many others.
Szente: I had a local issue bring me into contact with local government for the first time since becoming a member of the county in 2001. Those interactions gave me some insight into the inner-workings of local government. At one point, during a meeting with one of the representatives, I was asked if I was interested in running for office. After a few follow-up, in-depth conversations and consulting with my family, I made the choice to run.
What are the most important issues in your race, and how do you plan to address them?
Ashe: District 12 is large and consists mostly within a rural setting. It doesn’t have its own school or fire hall, and some residential areas along some roadways still do not have water. What affects the county as a whole will affect the district’s tax rate. Continuing work toward public safety and an adequate fire hall will increase protection of homes and property. It would be of great benefit to residents, as well as a means to lower the ISO insurance ratings in that area. Road maintenance needs to continue to be a priority, and I will monitor and report any needed improvements. I will work to improve the road access and bridges between Cedars of Lebanon on Highway 231 and Cainsville Road in the Norene community.
McPeak: Everything is important, even the small things. I want to just be honest and make the right choices that are best for Wilson County.
Szente: Taxes are top of mind right now. The hotel tax and the sales tax tops most especially. I would like to ensure every avenue is investigated before even considering a new tax. I believe tax revenues should grow as the county grows and spending should never exceed that growth.
What would you say to voters opposed to your running for office to convince them you are the most qualified?
Ashe: I have attended more than 360 county commission meetings and more than 1,000 committee meetings within all levels of county government. I served five years on the county finance committee and know where all funds are allocated within all departmental budgets totaling more than $211 million. I am the only candidate in District 12 who is a certified public administrator by the University of Tennessee in all phases of county government. I can go to work on day one representing all of the residents of District 12. I know the heart and soul of the various communities and families represented in District 12, having protected them for the past 30 years.
McPeak: I would listen and represent the 12th District and do what is right for the voters and taxpayers. I hope you will allow me to do this.
Szente: I have a broad experience in the private sector with exceptional understanding of finance, personnel and technology. I am excited about the prospect of public office. Energy and enthusiasm are intangibles that I think citizens of Wilson County want to see in their elected officials.
What do you bring to the table that your opponents do not?
Ashe: I’ve been a proven, hardworking, effective, trusted government official elected by the people for more than 30 years. County government is very complex and involves a vast understanding of all the laws, rules and regulations, which affect all the citizens of District 12. I know and have worked with all of the employees within all of the county government offices and departments. I bring an educated and experienced voice to the commission. I will not be running on one issue of interest and will remain focused on all of the major issues affecting the residents in our district.
McPeak: I was born in the 12th District. The only place I have ever voted is the 12th District. I have served this community for 36 years in public service and will continue. Being 12th District commissioner will allow me to serve my community even more.
Szente: I have not had the privilege of meeting my opponents yet, so it would be presumptuous of me to make a comparison.
How is your experience – or lack of experience – a plus or minus for the position you are seeking?
Ashe: Life’s best teacher is our experiences. As we move forward we need the knowledge of past experiences to make the best decisions possible for our future. I’ve served my country, my state and my county. I understand the needs of the public and their desire to have a qualified representative working for them at every level of government. Having a business and farming background also puts me in touch with all of the citizens of District 12.
McPeak: My experience and passion of serving the community, communicating and listening to the people you are voting for, and being honest and doing the right thing are very important.
Szente: My lack of experience in public office is a plus for the county commissioner in District 12. It ensures a fresh set of eyes on everyday problems, decisions made without bias or historical anchors and an invigorating passion to serve the citizens of District 12.