With varying answers and approaches on nearly every issue, candidates for Lakeland Commissioner showed incredibly diverse ideas and backgrounds as they responded this week to questions posed by The Bartlett Express.
Of the five candidates running for two at-large seats in the Sept. 19 election, four are either incumbents or have previous experience on the Board of Commissioners. The only exception is also the only woman in the campaign. And while four of the candidates believe the city’s current tax base is adequate and two agree that economic development is the greatest crisis, none of the candidates have the same economic plans nor do any agree on how to fund Lakeland’s new municipal school district.
The Bartlett Express sent each candidate the same form via a confirmed email address. The candidates were asked to provide their names, ages, seat sought, family information, occupational information, a short bio statement of no more than five sentences and a list of previous offices or community activities not already included in the bio.
They then were asked the same six questions: (1) Why are you seeking a seat on the Board of Commissioners, and what are your goals?; (2) What do you believe is the biggest issue facing Lakeland?; (3) What does Lakeland need to do to establish its identity separate from Memphis and develop its business district?; (4) How do you propose Lakeland will build and pay for its municipal school district?; (5) Do you think the current tax base is adequate? If not, what do you propose?; and (6) What sets you apart from your challengers?
Below are the responses from each candidate. All responses were formatted similarly for typesetting and edited lightly for spelling, grammar and newspaper style. Because the candidate’s answers were more lengthy than the newspaper could accommodate, some of the answers had to be cut significantly. The use of the ellipse (…) indicates significant deleted information.
John Wilkerson (challenger)
Family: Wife, Mary Ellen Wilkerson; sons Joe, Johnny and Bill Wilkerson
Occupation: Retired Certified Public Accountant
Bio: My wife and I have lived at our present address, 10821 Memphis Arlington Road, Lakeland, for 35 years. I have been a member of the Memphis Runners track club for 30 years, now a volunteer assisting in races.
Previous offices/community involvement: Former member of the city of Lakeland board of commissioners, 1997-1999; founding member of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce (Treasurer); Shelby County Republican Party (Steering Committee for Lakeland area); member of the Tennessee Republican State Executive Committee, Senate District 32.
1: To solve the present problems and debts that have been created. The current mayor and commissioners have created a huge debt burden for the city to repay. The latest information that was available was June 30, 2012, audit report. That document reflected that the city had issued over $20 million in bonds. At the present time, the commitment to pay for the municipal school system and current operating expenses and long term debt has created a bad financial condition. I believe that my past experiences as a CPA adviser for financial operations and taxes will be needed if Lakeland is to survive as a city. I want to help solve Lakeland’s financial problems.
2: Payment of current operations, plus prior debt incumbencies and paying for the municipal schools.
3: Lakeland needs to be business friendly. In the past, applicants to establish businesses have been turned away. I believe without a large increase in retail business with the related sales tax for Lakeland, we will have the alternative — a monstrous real estate property tax rate.
4: The largest sources of income will need to come from new retail businesses.
5: No, the current real estate tax base is inadequate. The retail sales must be increased for more sales tax revenue.
6: My professional experience as a retired CPA, giving economic and tax advice.
Cecil Tompkins (incumbent)
Family: Married, two children
Occupation: Financial planner and commissioner
Bio: Current commissioner and vice mayor, Board of Commissioner liaison (Economic Development and Design Review Commission); Chairman, Council of Lakeland Associations; president, Lakeland Lions Club; majored in Business Administration, College of Financial Planning certified former instructor (financial planning course studies), University of Memphis;
1: I can make a difference in how our city moves forward. Lakeland is poised to become a better place to live with our own school district, new economic development and new infrastructure. As a current commissioner, I am aware of the challenges and I am prepared to be a part of the solutions. My goal is to ensure that Lakeland will stay as one of the most desirable places to live, which means our decisions must be right the first time.
2: All candidates seem to agree that economic development is our biggest issue. However it’s not that simple. There are questions that need to be answered as to the type of developments that are acceptable … . While most residents would list economic growth as one of their priorities, it is the “what” and “where” that is debatable.
3: Lakeland has established an identify separate from Memphis. … Our business development will depend on the time it takes to begin building what has been approved, the amount of time it takes to convince some skeptics that Lakeland will be business-friendly and how quickly our new land use regulations are accepted. One of the intents of new regulations is to speed up the approval process … . Lakeland is unlikely to have a single business district due to the fact that we do not have a city center … .
4: For the next few years, it is probable that Lakeland will not have to build a school. With cooperative agreements with Arlington and Bartlett for our children to continue to attend those schools, it removes the immediate necessity for school construction. When those schools have reached capacity and cannot be expanded, we will have to confront the building issue. It’s likely that new buildings would be financed with general obligation bonds issued by the city of Lakeland.
5: I do believe our current tax base is adequate for years to come. It is our responsibility to plan our spending wisely to ensure that continues. New business development will help relieve any pressure on our property tax rate.
6: Experience, knowledge of current city operations, 30 years as a financial planner analyzing complex financial issues and making hard decisions that effect peoples lives for years to come. I am also a civic leader which puts me in contact with a cross section of Lakeland voters allowing me to understand the issues that are important to everyone.
Don Barber (incumbent)
Family: Wife, Shirlee Clark; five children; nine grandchildren
Bio: USAF 1968-1972 (Vietnam veteran); bachelor’s degree in aviation maintenance management, Metropolitan State College, Denver; master’s degree in engineering, University of Memphis; 30-year career leading and managing one of the core operations of FedEx as senior vice president of air operations.
Previous offices/community involvement: Board of Commissioners (four years), Municipal Planning Commission (three years), Economic Development Commission (two years), Parks and Recreation Commission (four years), Land Development Regulations Advisory Board (three years) and Lions Club.
1: … My public service is all about giving back in my latter years. I have taken no city compensation, I have devoted countless hours to city service and I have offered to help fund a major city team sports park. … My first term has been at the end of Lakeland’s opening era. I intend my next term to help craft the second era of our city as it builds upon its past values, fulfills all the responsibilities of a full-featured community and ushers in new leaders for the future.
2. Lakeland must ramp up achievement of its long-term goals, demonstrate aggressive leadership on some form of vision statement … and synthesize more unity on those objectives. … We need more leaders and followers who support most or all of this entire ‘to do’ list … .
3. There is no identity confusion between Memphis and Lakeland. … We must keep our standards and identity, improve our image among members of the business community and real estate developers and become more competitive with other cities in Shelby County and nearby counties for future growth. A key part of this is enhancing the attractiveness of our city in areas like transportation routes, active support for areas of commercial concentration, cleanliness, schools, parks and social amenities. We must prepare to self-source key services …
4: … The consensus seems to be that as near-term growth in student population occurs, our middle school grades will experience most of that pressure relative to existing capacity. I would recommend an addition to Lakeland Elementary for expansion to temporarily handle some of our own middle school population as a first approach. This would be less capital intensive, would ultimately create more elementary capacity for our own children, and would permit Lakeland more time to build up construction reserves. Once we commit to our own construction, I would support buying real estate large enough for both a middle and high school campus up front and create a full-blown middle school design that we can act upon in phases. … This approach will make the “paying for it” much more manageable. Typically, cities issue school bonds or raise property taxes, or both, to add capital infrastructure to school systems. … I would much prefer growth.
5: Yes, for the foreseeable future. Our financial planning balances our property tax receipts between school system funding (29%) and pursuit of deferred, but imminent, capital infrastructure needs (71%). As it winds up, we will be able shift the mix more toward what will become a clearer picture of school system needs as well as self-sourcing for other essential services. … First, property tax receipts will grow through value increase as undeveloped and under-developed areas grow to become residential and commercial neighborhoods. Second, our whole local contribution to general fund sourcing is leaned heavily towards development fee receipts and local option sales tax receipts. …
6: I have a substantially different and more varied experience base. … As an incumbent, I have a solid track record of tackling tough issues and pushing for needed change in city administration and services.
Sherri Gallick (challenger)
Family: Married to Randy Gallick; sons Adam and Ryan
Occupation: Consumer products business executive, certified personal trainer & fitness instructor and marketing management consultant
Bio: I have more than 20 years of executive experience in sales, management, marketing and logistics. Most of my career focus has been in the consumer products industry employed by the Sara Lee Corp. and Maple Leaf Farms. I hold an undergraduate degree in education and an MBA with emphasis in marketing. I am also a certified personal trainer and educate people on the benefits of health, fitness and quality of life.
Previous offices/community involvement: … Recently, I coached Special Olympics and I assisted the Catholic Church by creating a singles network in the Kansas City Metro. I have also been a PTA leader, booster club chairperson, confirmation facilitator, HOA board member and a leader for various organizations. I served as the IT/Communications Chair for the Republican Women of Purpose and on the executive board for Griffiths Women’s Leadership Society. I am a past president for two different local MIZZOU Alumni Association boards, as well as an out of state representative on the International MAA Governing Board. I currently hold the office of Vice President of the MAA Governing Board. I also serve on the Municipal Planning Commission and assigned as the MPC liaison for Economic Development. I have assisted the city with projects and I hold various volunteer positions in my Oakwood community.
1: I believe I can make a positive difference for Lakeland. I have a strong business background, I possess critical thinking skills and I am a problem solver. I am also honest and do not rush to judgment. I like to look at diverse views, weigh all sides and then make a decision. … I want to see development that enhances our community by being proactive instead of reactive. … I want to see Lakeland invite small business to our community. … I also believe we need to implement common sense into some of our regulations. … Lastly, I have lived in other communities similar to Lakeland. I have seen each community prosper from relevant business and grow stronger. That is my goal for Lakeland as well.
2: Economic Development. … If we are to sustain our way of life in Lakeland, we must increase the business base. … It is very concerning to me that other communities have been able to grow, while Lakeland has seen decline. We must determine why this is happening and act promptly to find solutions. I believe we can continue to have high standards and allow business to prosper as well.
3: We need to promote our city and the many wonderful features and attributes. I want to see us market our city by reaching out to various businesses that exist in other upscale communities across the country. We have a tremendous story to tell and I do not see us utilizing this as a tool. One of our great assets is our location. … We must go out and sell our city on the great demographics and features.
4: The plan is for Lakeland and Arlington to have a cooperative agreement next year. The law ensures that money appropriated follows the child and Lakeland schools will collect revenue from our property tax. It is a state requirement that a small portion of our local tax rate is collected for the municipal school district. I believe we will allocate additional amounts and we can target a specific portion to accumulate as a reserve to help fund a future middle school in Lakeland. The consultants have forecasted a need in five to seven years. … It is my opinion that we should fight for the school buildings. The taxpayers have paid for the buildings once and we should not have to pay for the building again.
5: Yes, at this time I do believe the rate is adequate, but also believe in fiscal responsibility. The only way to ensure low taxes is to increase our business base while being fiscally responsible with current funds. I am not a proponent of excessive business growth or the wrong business growth, but we must develop business and well-planned community growth for Lakeland to be a desirable place to live.
6: My business leadership, board positions and life experience make me uniquely qualified to lead. I am someone who understands the big picture, but also knows how the dynamics of day-to-day business play into a situation. I have long-term vision, critical thinking skills and I am a problem solver. I do not like band-aids or to allow a situation to linger. I go the extra mile to find solutions and I listen to all views before I make a decision. As a female, I bring a different viewpoint and thought process to the board. When I make decisions, I will evaluate a proposed outcome using a different assessment than that of my peers. … Lastly, I have not been a commissioner before, my fellow candidates have been. I bring new ideas and I listen. I get things done, I believe in open communication and I am a servant leader.
Family: Daughter; two grandchildren, Chloe, 13, and Evin, 19
Occupation: Owner of Officekeepers LLC commercial cleaning company
Bio: Graduated Kingsbury High School. Attended University of Memphis. Worked for The Dial Corp. for 12 years, starting as a sales representative before moving to assistant manager to district manager and finally to zone manager. Worked for T.H. McKnight for 16 years. Started as sales manager, moved to vice-president, executive vice-president and finally was part-owner. Owner of Officekeepers LLC for the past 16 years.
Previous offices/community involvement: Previous Lakeland commissioner 2005 to 2009. Was a member of the first class of Leadership Lakeland. Past member of Partnership Lakeland. Helped sell all the advertising for the first phonebook of Lakeland.
Chairman of the Lakeland Board Appeals. Was the 2006 recipient of the advocacy award from the Memphis Cancer Society.
1: To fill the void in leadership that exists on the present board. To offer sensible solutions to problems facing Lakeland. My goals are to improve on the rural atmosphere that attracts home buyers to Lakeland, while building a striving business community as a base that pay’s for the needs and activities of our city.
2: We lack a sense of direction from the Board of Commissioners. The board should anticipate problems and have solutions before they happen. I told the commissioners eight years ago when I was on the board there would be a problem if they did not attract retail business. Each time I voted for development, I was voted down 4 to 1. I voted for the retail development on the corner of Highway 70 and Seed Tick Road. The mayor and commissioners rejected the development. The anchor store planned was going to be a Kroger. Lakeland is probably the only city in the United States to actually lose two Krogers. This alone would have kept us from having a property tax.
3: First of all, city hall has to have a different attitude. We have not attracted any business with all our rules and regulations. You can’t stifle business with fees, licenses and red tape that is designed to slow up business.
4: With patience and determination knowing there is a new attitude in city hall to tackle these problems and won’t try to sweep them under the rug. We have to immediately prove to the Memphis community we are here to work with them not against them. We have to do some serious belt tightening at city hall. Personally, I’ve had to cut back on expenses and city hall should do the same.
5: Yes, the current base is adequate. With new leadership and business experience that all the challengers possess, we will give Lakeland a new confidence knowing we are going to represent all of Lakeland.
6: As a small business owner I have a true business background. I believe you run a small city just like a small company. Each month I have to balance my books and if I can’t do that I can’t stay in business. Lakeland management doesn’t have that problem. If they run out of money they can pass a property tax just like they did a few months ago. You can’t run a city on a credit card. Pretty soon you max out the card. Knowing this set’s me apart as a person with the correct experience and won’t have to go through a learning curve with experience as a previous commissioner.