Editor’s note: Voters will have four candidates to choose from when deciding Lebanon’s next mayor: Incumbent Bernie Ash, Cumberland University professor Rick Bell, former city councilor Rob Cesternino and artist-actor John DeMoor.

Each of them outlined their platforms and positions for voters through a questionnaire from the Lebanon Democrat. Here are their responses:

Bernie Ash

Age: 73

Occupation: Mayor of Lebanon

Question 1: What makes you the best candidate for the position?

I think my experience is superior to the other three candidates’. I served on the Wilson County Commission for 16 years, serving as chairman of the Budget Committee and the Emergency Management Committee. I also served on the Education, Cable TV, Recreation and Minutes Committees and the JECDB.

We built schools and a fire station and built the fund balance up from a very low balance to around $2 million. I understand it has grown to an even higher balance today. I also served on the Lebanon City Council for two years and as mayor for the last four years.

While serving as The Wilson County Veterans Service Officer for five years I assisted in building the Veterans Plaza and Museum while helping veterans get the benefits they deserve.

I am a member of First Baptist Church, The Gideons, the Breakfast Rotary, the American Legion, The VFW and the Vietnam Veterans of America.

Question 2: What do you see as the biggest issue facing the city right now and how would you address it?

While growth continues to be a major concern, it is presently manageable. COVID-19 is still a major concern for the city at this time. I am the only candidate with live experience managing the city during this unprecedented time. I have worked with the state and the other mayors in the county and the region to keep our citizens and employees safe and the economy moving.

Even with the tornado, the clean up and recovery and COVID-19 Lebanon continues to boom and building continues to move forward.

Question 3: What other issues do you feel need attention, and how should they be addressed?

Other issues that continue to need attention are traffic and infrastructure, such as roads, drainage, recreation and continuing to bring business and industry into Lebanon while maintaining the small town atmosphere that we have.

We must also continue to maintain public safety at a high level. I have hired a traffic engineer to come up with new and out of the box solutions to the traffic problems brought on by our growth. I have also hired a grant writer to help find unexplored revenues for these growth problems. Both of these employees have added to the accomplishment of all our other employees in making Lebanon a great place to live.

Question 4: What do you think the city does well, and what does it need to improve on?

The city has a wealth of talent with its department heads and its employees who continue to provide services to our citizens.

We provide city services at a very high level while employing very professional police and fire departments to keep us and our property safe.

Rick Bell

Age: 51

Occupation: Cumberland University Professor of History, Faculty Athletics Representative and College Republicans sponsor

Question 1: What makes you the best candidate for the position?

I am not a career politician, and I am not a salesman. I am a businessman and educator whose family has been part of the Lebanon business community for 70 years. As a teenager, I worked on the loading docks at Le-Al-Co, our family business that provided hundreds of jobs. I continued to learn the business by working in logistics, customer service, sales and finance. I was taught how to work hard and how to run a business. However, I was also taught to serve this community.

I work with several nonprofits and served on the Lebanon City Council. Through that experience, I realized that the next four years cannot be like the last four years. The mayor must be able to communicate, work well with others, make educated decisions in a timely manner and work with a sense of urgency. I have walked tens of thousands of steps through neighborhoods in every ward and have talked with a lot of people. These are the qualities they want in a mayor, and these are the qualities that I will bring to the office.

Question 2: What do you see as the biggest issue facing the city right now and how would you address it?

We live in a rapidly growing region, and Lebanon is feeling the effects of that. However, we are also feeling the effects of a lack of planning and the lack of urgency to put plans in place. I serve on the board of Cumberland Region Tomorrow, an organization that helps communities develop strategies to handle issues of growth. Through that experience, I have learned that growth brings opportunities and challenges, but without proper planning, a city is not prepared for either. That is why Lebanon has the traffic, the congestion and the construction, but we are not getting the amenities that growth should bring.

When I was on the city council, we created the Lebanon Forward 2040 Comprehensive Plan to tell future developers what the city would like to have in certain areas. It was to take one year to implement. Over three years later, it has not been put into effect. We created the Sparta Pike Economic Study to enhance commercial development such as hotels, restaurants and shopping on the Sparta Pike Exit. That plan has also not been put into effect. In 2016, we created the Hartmann Drive Corridor Study to attract better quality restaurants and retail and create an attractive entrance into the city. These plans would bring the amenities everyone wants, the infrastructure to support them and the sales tax revenues that would alleviate the need for property tax increases.

Growth also requires planning to ensure that it does not have a negative effect on citizens who already live in Lebanon. This means that infrastructure must be in place. A few weeks ago, I spoke with a lady who said her water pressure dropped when new houses were built near her. Potential issues such as that must be addressed before future development can be approved.

It cannot take years to put plans in place. We cannot have another four years of handling growth on a day-to-day basis. As mayor, I will work with a sense of urgency and with the city council to implement the Comprehensive Plan and other plans to place Lebanon on a positive course toward managed growth.

People often talk with me about the future of Lebanon. That future is coming quickly, and we must be prepared for it.

Question 3: What other issues do you feel need attention, and how should they be addressed?

Last year, Mayor Ash raised property taxes 41% while sales tax revenues were at an all-time high. As mayor, I will understand that managing the budget is my most important job. When a department head brings a spending measure to my office, I will not respond with an automatic yes. I will ask questions and consult with the finance director about its effect on the budget. With the proper amount of information, I will make an educated and informed decision. If the answer is yes, then I will take the measure to the city council. If the answer is no, then it will stop at that point.

As mayor, I will also understand that the economic future is uncertain, and we must relieve the tax burden on homeowners and local business owners. With that in mind, I will ask each department to look for budget cuts. I will not ask for across the board cuts because some departments operate more efficiently than others, and I do not want to cost people jobs. I cannot promise to roll back the entire 41% tax increase created by Mayor Ash, but I will work with department heads to cut the budget where we can.

Question 4: What do you think the city does well, and what does it need to improve on?

The City of Lebanon is blessed with great employees. From those who are in the public eye to those who are behind the scenes, they work hard to provide citizens with the services that we need.

It is also blessed to have thousands of great people living within its boundaries. I have walked thousands of steps in every ward and have met a lot of people. No matter the ward or the neighborhood, they have expressed the same thoughts. People want Lebanon to move forward in a positive direction. They have talked about a future with better financial management, smart growth that protects our established neighborhoods, enhancing quality of life for everyone and protecting Lebanon’s identity and what makes it a special place to live.

As I walked those steps, I also saw what the city can do better. Many sidewalks are unwalkable due to crumbling or being raised by tree roots. They also have weeds growing through the cracks. A plan must be put in place to improve our sidewalk system and to beautify our city.

This beautification should also include filling empty retail buildings. They are private property, but the city can work with those property owners to bring occupancy that will be a positive for everyone. Who says a former retail space cannot be transformed into a high-tech center that provides well-paying jobs? We should promote assets such as Cumberland University, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Lebanon Municipal Airport to let businesses know that this is the place they want to be.

Rob Cesternino

Age: 54

Occupation: President of Cavalry Security, Inc.

Question 1: What makes you the best candidate for the position?

I have over 30 continuous years of leadership in the private, military and public sectors. I have grown a small business into a multi-million dollar, multi-state operation. I served as district manager of the Pacific Northwest for one of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

As a member of the U.S. Army Finance Corps with a DoD Financial Management (Level II) certification and extensive profit and loss statement experience in the private sector, I am a successful financial manager.

I served two terms on the Lebanon City Council and was twice elected mayor pro tempore. I graduated from UT Knoxville’s MTAS Elected Officials Academy (Level I and II), their year-long municipal managers program, Leadership Wilson, Leadership Middle Tennessee and FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute. I have eight years of involvement in Lebanon’s city budget, a career of successfully leading organizations through troubled times and multiple deployments through the U.S. military.

I am the most experienced leader and money manager of any candidate. With an employee workforce near 600 and an annual budget near $50 million, now is not the time to elect someone without experience and hope they learn the job. I am experienced, tested and ready from Day 1.

Question 2: What do you see as the biggest issue facing the city right now and how would you address it?

Leadership and financial management. As we continue to move forward without a plan, growth comes. As we continue to move forward without a plan, we get further and further behind from an infrastructure standpoint. As we continue to move forward without a plan, we have no identity. As we continue to spend money without a plan, taxes increase. As we continue to spend money without a plan, the citizens and businesses of Lebanon are left out.

Leadership matters. Experience matters. As the mayor I will work with the council to create a vision. Then I will work with the workforce, businesses and citizens of Lebanon and we will act to realize that vision. From Day 1 I will provide a level of financial oversight and understanding not offered by any other candidate. My administration will work with the council to provide the type of leadership and fiscal responsibility the citizens and businesses of Lebanon, want, need and deserve.

Question 3: What other issues do you feel need attention, and how should they be addressed?

There are many issues the city needs to address. We are a dirty city with drainage/flooding issues that will require an intergenerational plan to fix. We are growing at an alarming rate given the lack of vision or plan.

We are not prioritizing spending (see the mayor’s mansion). We have a multi-million dollar gasification plant sitting inactive and have not addressed that in recent memory. We are growing, yet no attention is paid to businesses and citizens already here. We have streets in need of repair and cannot even guess our current paving cycle.

Traffic continues to worsen. We have assets not being used to attract new businesses. We have areas of the city that have not received attention for years. We are sorely lacking in parks and opportunities for children outside of recreational sports. We have tens of millions of dollars in reserves and no plan on how to use it.

As mayor, I will work with the council and department heads as a team to address these issues and each concern citizens bring. There’s no way to get everything addressed overnight, but you can rest assured we will be on it and communicate our intentions clearly and often.

Question 4: What do you think the city does well, and what does it need to improve on?

The city has a committed work force and some extremely well-run departments. We have a recreation department that does an amazing job of taking care of our most valuable possessions, our children and grandchildren. Our commitment to the Lebanon Senior Citizens Center is commendable, but without the awesome team leading it, our results would be less impressive. Public safety (police, fire and EMS) has received an infusion of funding in the last 10 years that has truly served the public. Our utility departments, street department, codes department and public works are hard working. We have increased our commitment to technology but we have to do more there. Finance, HR and administrative support continue to get the job done behind the scenes with little or no credit. It is a workforce I look forward to working with to enhance and maximize the potential of our great city.

What we need to improve upon, I covered in the answer to question 3. There are of course more areas and as a city that is growing, we will need to address those issues as they arise. We also need to understand, accept, embrace and manage to the fact that as Nashville continues to grow, Lebanon will become more and more a part of the greater Nashville area. As such, our mayor needs to be there representing and protecting our interests as decisions are made at the state level that will one day impact us.

This all comes back to leadership, a vision and planning. We as a city need a mayor who will ensure all three are a primary and immediate focus.

Ronald ‘John’ DeMoor

Age: 64

Occupation: Business executive, television/film/radio actor, published author and songwriter, concert-comedian, historian

Question 1: What makes you the best candidate for the position?

I’ve never been a politician. I have nearly 40 years’ experience in the corporate and small business world, negotiating and fulfilling contracts, managing budgets, people and logistics on a national and international basis. My experience in television, radio, and internet production has made me successful in creative marketing and sales, which makes me uniquely qualified to promote Lebanon as an exciting vital place to work, play, raise a family and invest.

Examine my plans to permanently solve our flooding problem on the city square, and alleviate flooding in our neighborhoods. See my plan to ease traffic problems currently challenging our city, as well as constructing a safe, “year-round” convenient parking building, either on, or one block off the city square, for the purpose of increasing customers and investment, not only on the square, but for many blocks surrounding it, all while preserving the square itself.

My exciting plan for our airport will bring jobs, investment and commerce, thus increasing the tax base of money flowing into our city treasury, at current tax rates. See all these exciting plans on my campaign website: www.howtheyvoted.com.

Question 2: What do you see as the biggest issue facing the city right now and how would you address it?

Irresponsible spending before infrastructure repair and updating. For example, a recent proposal before the current mayor and city council is asking for a $3 million dollar loan from the city of Clarksville, Tennessee to update/repair our city gas facilities. The percentage rate on the loan was not included in the request; something else I will change as Mayor DeMoor, i.e., full disclosure to tax payers.

There are also equipment concerns in our water treatment facilities in the form of an important major pumping apparatus, which was mentioned by one of our engineers during a recent council meeting this past summer, repairs have yet to be announced.

These two vital issues should have been funded, not with more debt, but by prioritizing their expenditure and completion, as part of our annual budget, rather than buying the Mitchell House Mansion, and the acreage for a proposed sports complex, which apparently is in a flood plain.

City vehicles: In terms of maintenance, depreciation, repair personnel and buildings, I will examine whether it will be fiducially wiser to lease all our fleet of automobiles and equipment, as opposed to purchasing some or all of them outright.

Our city has tremendous debt. I will make it a priority to work with the finance department and create an outline or timetable showing taxpayers how and when we will reduce our debt load. My 40 years’ experience dealing with budgetary challenges at the corporate level will dovetail nicely within our city accounting department.

Question 3: What other issues do you feel need attention, and how should they be addressed?

I will work very hard to build a new sense of trust, mutual respect and cooperation between city government officials and our citizens. Over many years, I’ve personally experienced a definite lack of cooperation from city government, and I’ve witnessed indifference and abuse by the current mayor, and members of the city council toward citizens, during council meetings.

Furthermore, I will demand everyone in city government obey all the laws, as outlined in our city charter, and the U.S. Constitution; this should eliminate any additional lawsuits against our city by contractors, and the general public Everyone in my administration and everyone doing business with our city, including myself, will be held to the highest standards of ethics.

I want our city of Lebanon recognized as the most law-abiding city in the U.S. Investors will want to come here, and you, my fellow citizens, will be proud to live here.

Question 4: What do you think the city does well, and what does it need to improve on?

What do I think the city does well? The streets and parks are kept neat and clean. And what does it need to improve on? Follow my bold new leadership as the next mayor.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.