McKENZIE (October 11) — What was expected to be a debate between the two candidates for the office of mayor of McKenzie resulted in only one candidate attending. Mayor Jill Holland challenged challenger Ryan Griffin to debate the issues of the race, however, Griffin did not respond to the invitation and was not present at the Park Theatre venue.
Retired General Sessions Judge Larry Logan and Carroll County Mayor Joseph Butler were selected to serve as moderators of the event. Neither candidate would have information about questions in advance of the planned debate.
Larry Logan said Griffin never confirmed he would attend. The candidate did request the questions in advance, a condition to which Holland did not consent.
Holland used the opportunity as a forum to address her plans, list her accomplishments, and to address some campaign issues.
She noted she has been the target of rumors and lies and even her Christianity has been questioned. One example said a former city department official and she supposedly met in college. She said she went to an all-girls college and he would have been in middle school at the time.
With a question about infrastructure from Mayor Butler, Holland said the city has paved five miles of streets, including recently in front of E. W. James Supermarket and Cherry Street, serving Bethel University. She said the city also built a dog park with a grant, refurbished and reopened the Park Theatre, built an 18-hole disc golf course with grants. The city built the Splash Pad for children and a new pavilion next to it, purchased the former railroad depot, landed new industries, repaired wastewater (sewer) lines with a cured in-place liner and modernized the city’s wastewater treatment plant to successfully remove the city from the state commissioner’s moratorium, which prevented any major industry with significant water usage from locating here.
“We are now off the commissioner’s list,” said Holland.
On a question from Logan about non-essential services, such as ballfields, Holland said the city contracted to build six pickleball courts on the site of the former tennis courts. Construction should start in late October or early November and it is funded through the federal COVID relief funding known as the American Rescue Plan. And in the coming years, the Tennessee National Guard will help construct three soccer fields and concession areas on McKenzie City Park and rebuilt the walking track and basketball courts at Mulberry Park. The city has also applied for a Blue Cross-Blue Shield grant to build playground equipment near the pickleball courts.
Lighting upgrades are also being planned for the ballfields at McKenzie City Park.
She noted the city has received approval to build two sidewalks with grant funds. Those are from downtown McKenzie to U.S. 79 and to extend the sidewalk along S. Main to E.W. James Supermarket. Both are delayed by the state.
Also, the city is working with FEMA in hopes to reopening Kencindot Street after a culvert collapsed and severed the roadway. A new box culvert and repairs to the road are estimated at $500,000. A recommended bridge is $1 million. Holland said the city is pursing a FEMA grant to make repairs.
The Industrial Board will soon develop a 65-acre site, across from the highway from McKenzie High School, into a housing subdivision - the first such in the city limits in the past 50 years. The highway frontage will be developed into highway businesses. Single family housing should range in price from $150,000 to $200,000, said the mayor.
She noted the city now has its own McKenzie Chamber of Commerce to promote business and industry. Both the Industrial Board and the Chamber are important parts in the expected growth for McKenzie and the entire region.
Ford Motor Company’s Blue Oval project in Stanton, Tennessee is one of the biggest and best things to happen to Tennessee. It should be operational in just a few years. It is the largest, single manufacturing plant under construction in the United States.
“We are in the sweet spot,” said Holland for the city to be the home of supplier industries to Ford. All area cities’ and counties’ leaders are meeting with Ford and state leaders, who are guiding the local governments and advising the communities to get prepared or otherwise be left out. The communities that plan and prepare are the ones that will benefit most. Otherwise, “the ship will sail without them.”
That’s where a full-time mayor is essential, said Holland. She said her opponent, Mr. Griffin, has a full-time job and could not serve as the full-time mayor. The city would either have a full-time mayor or hire a city manager.
She noted she is paid $850 monthly to serve as mayor, works 50 to 60 hours weekly, and often covers her own expenses for travel or lodging.
She posted on social media that she looks forward to debating Griffin should he choose to participate.