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Debate in District 15 race begins
Feb 02, 2006 12:00 am
January 30, 2006
A Lebanon city public safety official who plans to challenge District 15 Wilson County Commissioner Billy Swindell in the county's August election said Friday he was perplexed by the commission's recent vote naming Swindell's daughter a judicial commissioner.
Lebanon Public Safety Coordinator Michael Justice, a former sergeant with the city police department and a resident of the Tuckers Crossroads community for the past seven years, said had he been in Swindell's position, he would have abstained from voting.
Swindell, seeking his third term as representative of the county's fifteenth district, conceded he should have abstained but defended his daughter's appointment to the judicial commissioner's post.
"They picked (Stacy Swindell) over somebody who has done that job, and I don't understand it. I don't understand why we would take a chance on not hiring the most experienced person for that job," Justice said. "In my personal opinion, if I was the county commissioner, I think I would have excused myself from a vote on one of my family members."
And while he agreed his abstention might have been the proper move, Swindell continued to defend commissioners' decision to appoint his daughter to the post against the recommendation of the Wilson County Judicial Committee.
"I didn't think about recusing myself, and I'll tell you why. I don't think I did anything wrong," Swindell remarked. "I had a daughter that needed a job real bad, and I didn't promise anybody anything for their support. I did what I thought was right, and I'll stand by that with anybody in Tennessee."
Though Justice said the vote was a cause for concern, he identified issues related to fire protection as one of his primary reasons for entering the race.
Justice noted plans are now in the works to build a Wilson Emergency Management Agency outpost in the Tuckers Crossroads community, but he said he feels those plans were "put on the back burner."
Swindell said he had long argued for a WEMA station in the area but explained the issue was put on hold due to funding issues.
"The reason that I had been hesitant to push so hard for the fire station was because it was about $600,000 or $700,000 to crew it. There was no money in the budget for that," he said, adding such an expense would have translated into "six or seven cents" on the county's tax rate.
Now, with funding in place, Swindell said he hopes to see the new station completed by summer's end. In recent years, Swindell continued, he had sought to seek financial assistance for a new fire station from the City of Mt. Juliet with little success.
Like the incumbent District 15 representative, Justice said he also believes Mt. Juliet should play a larger role in providing fire protection services inside its municipal borders.
"In my personal opinion, I believe that the City of Mt. Juliet's growing, and I think with that growth they need to be responsible in part, if not all, for their own fire (protection)," Justice said. "… I do believe they should be responsible for a big part, if not all, of their fire services so we can better protect some of these communities that don't have the potential tax base that Mt. Juliet does."
Vance Road resident Ronald Clark Wilson, who has also picked up a petition to seek the District 15 seat on Aug. 3, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at email@example.com.